Pat Brown, CEO and founder of Impossible Foods, says his company has a simple mission: “To replace the need for animals as a food-production technology – globally, by 2035.”
That’s a lot of fake burgers – especially when you consider that between 2010 and 2050, global demand for meat is projected to double.
There should be little doubt that alternative meat products – either plant-based or the cultured lab-grown variety – are capturing a share of the protein market. The question is whether they can capture a significant share, say, more than 15%. As a point of reference, fake milk products account for about 13% of that market.
In that context, Brown’s goal seems far-fetched. Ed Rensi thinks so, too.
While Rensi’s opinion is not what you would call unbiased, but he would seem to have more than a little experience with consumers and their preferences. As president and CEO of McDonald’s from 1991 to 1997, Rensi saw the sales and number of McDonald’s U.S. restaurants roughly double to about 26,000. Today the number is roughly 38,000, with more than 210,000 employees.
Rensi, 75, is in the news due to an opinion piece he wrote for Fox Business this week where he scoffed at the idea fake meat would become anything more than a diet fad.
“To be clear,” Rensi wrote, “I have no problem with Americans voluntarily choosing a vegetarian or vegan diet -- I do have a problem with guilting Americans into diet changes based on faulty information.”
That faulty information, of course, refers to the constant drumbeat of activists claiming cows are killing the planet. In rebuttal, Rensi cites the EPA report that says only 4% of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. come from cows.
But facts, as we all know, can and often are, distorted. At the end of the day, fake meats need to offer value. As of now, Rensi, who spearheaded the drive thru concept as well as the development of Chicken McNuggets, McRib sandwich, Extra Value Meals and Ronald McDonald House, doesn’t see the proposed value in either the Impossible Burger or Beyond Meat.
“According to a senior Oxford researcher, ‘plant-based’ meats still have an environmental footprint five times larger than your classic black bean patty,” Rensi wrote. “Even if we stopped eating meat entirely, it would only reduce emissions by 2.6%.”
Rensi says imitation meat products are “science experiments” that “aren’t necessarily any healthier than meat: Compared to meat, the pea and soy protein patties can have more calories and sodium.”
That’s why Rensi believes fake meats sales will mimic the “gluten-free” diet fad, which has plateaued.
“I suspect plant-based meat is due for a similar reckoning once consumers discover that the ‘health halo’ on these products has lost its shine,” he concluded.