The future of food is indeed plant-based and Tom Hayes, CEO of Tyson Foods, agrees. During a recent episode of the North Carolina Public Radio Show, Tom said he is excited about the growth of plant-based protein. “We’re also looking at anything that consumers want, as well as can be an affordable, sustainable technology … to help feed the world on a sustainable basis. So, absolutely, plant protein, very excited about it,” Tom told host Kai Ryssdal.
Tyson’s interest in plant-based meat isn’t surprising. Last year, the company invested in plant-based meat company Beyond Meat, the first veggie burger to be sold next to meat in the frozen section of the grocery store. Thanks to growing awareness that meat is not the healthiest or the most sustainable source of protein, demand for alternative protein sources are at an all-time high. According to some estimates, the plant-based meat market is set to reach $5.2 billion by 2020 and could make up one-third of the market by 2050.
Given that, it’s really no wonder that even meat companies are investing in plant-based foods. For example, Canadian meat processor, Maple Leaf Foods, recently acquired Lightlife Foods, a producer of plant-based products such as tempeh, vegan sausages, and burgers. And food giant Nestlé recently bought Sweet Earth Foods, a Californian-based company known for vegan meals and snacks made from plant-based proteins. Major beef supplier Cargill recently sold off the last of their cattle feedlots and is focusing on transitioning their meat department to more broadly focus on “proteins,” denoting the inclusion of plant-based proteins – they also made an investment in Memphis Meats, a company working on lab cultured meat.
Some may be hesitant to embrace meat industry giants like Tyson getting involved in the plant-based sector, but we are reaching a time where the question of how we are going to feed a growing population that is set to reach nine billion by 2050 cannot be ignored. Demand for protein in the developed and developing world is at an all-time high, with the average person in the U.S. consuming 103 grams per day, around double the actual recommended amount. The animal agriculture system already covers over 45 percent of the world’s land mass, uses a majority of finite freshwater water resources, and is responsible for rampant air and water pollution – not to mention is the largest singular source of global greenhouse gas emissions. Even with all the resources that this industry uses, nearly one billion people still go hungry.
With the help of companies like Tyson, there is hope in shifting our broken food system away from industrial animal agriculture and towards a more sustainable one centered around plant-based proteins instead.
To learn more about the environmental impact of our food choices as well as trends and developments in the plant-based food space, check out our podcast #EatForThePlanet with Nil Zacharias.