Is the future of meat meat-free?
A rising number of butchers are going vegan as demand for protein options expands to include plant-based options.
One might say that the thought of a butcher going vegan would be a prime example of imagining the unimaginable, but James Persson from Melbourne, Australia did just that.
A butcher by trade, James experienced what can only be described as an awakening when he began watching films like ‘Earthlings’ and ‘Cowspiracy’, and realised that his life, and his career, had to change.
Butchers Going Vegan?
Persson isn’t the only butcher to shift away from animals. It’s happening in droves; butchers, ranchers, and even supermarkets as a whole, are moving away from meat.
Brian Kavanagh, a former butcher at Morrisons in Scotland, had an eye-opening experience that led him to quit his job. It happened after watching the Joaquin Phoenix-narrated documentary, Earthlings.
The 2005 award-winning film, directed by Shaun Monson, details the conditions animals raised for food, research, entertainment, and clothing endure.
Kavanagh went vegan overnight. He quit the butcher counter and went on to work for Sgaia, a European vegan meat producer.
“I was worried my background and my story might put them off,” he told the BBC.
“But they were really excited about it and wanted me just as much as I wanted to work there.”
Dutch vegan meat brand The Vegetarian Butcher’s founder Jaap Korteweg’s work in animal agriculture led him to eschew animal products. It was after being asked to store pig cadavers from a swine flu outbreak that he shifted away from meat.
“For me that was the moment to stop it, I’d had enough of that system using animals for meat,” he said in a recent interview.
“My goal was to become the biggest butcher in the world as soon as possible, and at that time people laughed at it because they don’t take it seriously,” Korteweg said.
“But for me I took it [seriously] because I wanted to create an alternative for the industrial meat.” The company, now a subsidiary of food giant Unilever, is one of the fastest growing vegan meat brands in Europe.
In the wake of COVID-19, supermarket chains have begun shuttering their meat counters while ramping up vegan options. IKEA, the Swedish home furnishings giant, has pledged to make half of its cafe offerings vegan by 2025.
Vegan Butcher Shops
Now, as demand for vegan meat continues to rise — Tesco, the UK’s largest supermarket chain — wants to boost meat alternative sales 300 percent by 2025. In 2019, the retailer closed hundreds of meat and fish counters as demand waned.
In meat’s wake, though, a vegan butcher industry is indeed booming.
The UK recently got its first vegan butcher shop, Rudy’s, last month.
“People understand what it is that we’re selling,” co-founder Matthew Foster told Reuters.
“It’s all designed to emulate meat. It tastes like meat, it’s got meat-like texture.”
There are vegan butcher shops across the U.S. and Canada. Minnesota-based The Herbivorous Butcher led the meat-free butcher revolution in the states.
“We’re here to bridge the gap so that omnivores can switch over,” Aubry Walch, Herbivorous Butcher co-founder, told the Guardian. “We don’t use funny words for our products. We call them what they are.”
The Vancouver-based vegan meat brand, The Very Good Food Company, which operates the Very Good Butcher shops, was the second vegan company to launch an IPO after Beyond Meat in the U.S. Trading under “VERY” on the Canadian Securities Exchange, it opened at $0.25 per Common Share, moving up to $2.00 per share within a week.
Does Vegan Meat Taste Like Meat?
The short answer? Yes. And no. It really depends on what the consumer is after.
“The easiest way is just to offer an alternative and say: ‘Hey, you like meat. We do too. Why not make it plant-based?’” Walch says.
There are brands like Herbivorous Butcher working to emulate all aspects of animal meat (and many more growing meat without the animal. Click here to read about the first slaughter-free meat to hit the market).
Leading vegan meat brands Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat have replicated beef and pork incredibly well — getting the look, taste, and texture of traditional meat. Their primary consumers are flexitarians, meat-eaters who diversify their protein to include more plant-based options. It’s why they’re seeing success in fast-food restaurants like Burger King, McDonald’s, and KFC.
“A lot of our work is done by hitting visual markers and matching aromas closely associated with the animal protein we’re aiming to replicate,” Sadrah Schadel, co-founder of the Asheville, North Carolina-based vegan butcher shop No Evil Foods, told 10Best.
Peter Fikaris, co-founder of the Berkeley, California-based vegan butcher shop, The Butcher’s Son, describes texture as an element.
“When I ate chicken, I remember it having a slight pull on my tongue when eating. It was fatty and moist but had an odd dryness to it – the flavor was more in my nose than my mouth,” Fikaris says. “It made my teeth sort of have this pulsating feeling after a few bites, like I was craving more of that particular chewing sensation.”
Vegan Meat Demand
For some, though, meat-free products can be too, well, meaty. There’s a growing market for less meaty meat alternatives, too. Products like Dr. Praeger’s vegan burgers, many of which feature whole foods, beans, and vegetables. There’s an emergent market for small-batch mock meats like tempeh. San Diego Tempeh uses unconvential beans for its fermented tempeh “cakes.” Beans like chickpeas, mung, split peas, and black beans take center stage in these Indonesian-inspired proteins.
There’s now tofu made from pumpkin seeds instead of the traditional soy. Small batch and locally-produced tofu is once-again gaining popularity, similar to its heyday in health food stores and co-ops where consumers would fish out blocks from giant buckets.
Restaurants, like the Los Angeles-based Burgerlords, are making their own vegan burgers from scratch despite the array of meaty options available for foodservice. That burger was such a hit for Burgerlords it turned its whole menu vegan earlier this year. Fast-food chain Shake Shack made its own vegan burger option out of black bean, brown rice, and roasted beets.
But the demand for vegan meat that tastes and cooks like animal meat is a priority for today’s consumers. According to a September industry report, 2019 saw the global plant-based meat market value grow to $3.3 billion (USD). It’s expected to see a CAGR of nearly 20 percent through 2027.
That growth and the demand is being driven by the ever-growing flexitarian consumer market segment. The ones seeking, for the most part, meaty vegan meat. And as vegan butchers keep popping up, there’s going to be a lot more of it to choose from.