A growing number of Americans are adopting a plant-based diet for health, ethical, and financial reasons. Today, there are 7.3 million vegetarians, and roughly one million of those are vegans. With a greater demand for alternatives to products like cow’s milk and hamburgers, the free market is stepping in and meeting that demand. In the process, the meat industry is taking a substantial hit.
The current trend does not bode well for the future of the meat market. As more consumers turn to tofu burgers and almond milk, beef producers see the writing on the wall, which is why the cattle lobby is petitioning the federal government to intervene on their behalf.
According to the Chicago Tribune, the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association is demanding the Department of Agriculture prevent new forms of protein from being marketed and sold as “synthetic beef,” “vegan meat,” or “Beyond Beef.” They argue that these products, composed of “non-meat ingredients,” deceive consumers since they contain the term “beef” and are “strategically” placed near conventional meat items in grocery stores.
The newspaper also points out that the dairy industry attempted to suppress its vegan rival. In 2017, Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) submitted legislation to encourage the Food and Drug Administration to stop makers of milk substitutes (soy, rice, or cashew) from using the term “milk.” She makes the same argument: these alternatives mislead the public.
Both efforts have yet to make any significant gains. Lobbyists and politicians may aver that it’s about protecting consumers. But these initiatives are really about special interests seeking special privileges from the state to stifle competition.
Beef and Dairy Industries Losing
The question is: why are the beef and dairy sectors using the tool of government to limit competition? It’s simple: fake meat and non-milk beverage sales are booming, while beef and dairy sales are falling.
Vegan food sales top $3 billion each year. The meat substitute market – foods made from soy protein, yeast extract, pea protein isolate – is projected to climb to $5.2 billion within two years. Since 2013, non-dairy beverage purchases have surged 61%, with revenues reaching nearly $2 billion in 2017.
At the same time, beef and dairy sales are falling. Americans are imbibing 20% less beef than they used to and domestic dairy sales are sliding. Dean Foods, the biggest supplier of cow’s milk in the U.S., has seen its profits plunge by a whopping 91%.
These trends aren’t only situated in the U.S., but all over the world.
Will Generation Z Stay Vegan?
Generation Z – those born in the late 1990s – are primarily driving these changing figures. Whether this is sustainable or not remains to be seen. Just a few years ago, prior to millennials becoming the largest consuming demographic, it was regularly reported that the likes of McDonald’s were going to collapse because millennials wanted avocado on toast and organic fast food. That hasn’t happened. In fact, the home of the Big Mac has seen its stock hit all-time highs. The same could be true of Generation Zers.
That said, the short- and long-term challenges are present for beef and dairy. And there’s a reason why these sectors are afraid – very afraid. But should these industries milk the government to solve their internal woes? What’s next? Subsidies? Nevermind.
Vegetarians, vegans, and the myriad of other groups who are shunning societal culinary norms have been given a bad reputation in recent years as being overbearing, obnoxious, and downright militant. However, these herbivores have dollars in their pockets and they have as much consuming power as carnivores. The market is taking notice and entrepreneurs and brands don’t want to miss out.
Rather than incorporating cronyism into their business models, the cattlemen and dairy farmers would be better off serving better and healthier products to attract the new generation of consumers.
Since 84% of vegetarians and vegans eventually return to meat, this could be an opportunity for the meat and dairy industries to improve operations, understand why people go vegetarian, and how they can enhance their standings in the marketplace. Perhaps the consumer and farmer will meet again. Until then, it’s going to be a rough ride for the cattlemen.
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