Australia’s plant-based meat industry boomed in 2020, according to a new report – but high prices are still a barrier for many

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  • The number of plant-based meat products on Australian supermarket shelves doubled in 2020, according to a new report.
  • Food Frontier and Deloitte Access Economics say the sector also doubled its local job count.
  • However, retail sales only grew 32% to $185 million, with the report authors suggesting high prices could deter Australians from tucking in.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

The number of plant-based meat products on Australian supermarket shelves doubled in 2020, and the growing industry effectively doubled its local workforce, according to a fresh report on the alternative protein industry.

But consumer expenditure didn’t follow the same incredible trajectory, suggesting the cost of those cruelty-free alternatives may keep curious diners from ditching animal products altogether.

The 2020 State of the Industry report, prepared by thinktank Food Frontier and Deloitte Access Economics, states more than 200 plant-based meat products adorn Australian supermarket shelves, 42% of which come from local manufacturers.

That uptick matches a doubling of the Australian industry workforce to 547 full-time equivalent jobs in the 2020 financial year.

Those findings run alongside Australia’s growing appreciation for plant-based diets, with Food Frontier stating some 42% of consumers have down-scaled or eliminated their meat intake.

The stats also reflect the recent contributions of v2food, the Australian firm behind Hungry Jack’s’ mass-market Rebel Whopper, and gourmet-adjacent efforts from Fable.

All told, the plant-based meat industry was responsible for $185 million in sales — an impressive tally, but not double the $140 million in sales accrued over the 2019 financial year.

“The number of products available on grocery shelves more than doubled over FY20, however retail sales, while significant, did not,” the report’s authors stated.

“This is not uncommon for new, emerging food categories, though it may also indicate consumer barriers yet to be overcome, such as price, familiarity and perception of taste.”

While hungry Australians appear more willing to chow down on plant-based alternatives, price competitiveness remains a key barrier for the sector, Food Frontier says.

Plant-based meat alternatives are, on average, 49% more expensive than animal protein sources at the supermarket, while restaurant menu items are between 50c and $1 dearer than their meaty menu counterparts.

“Plant-based meats will need to reach a closer price-point with equivalent conventional meats to become a competitive alternative,” the authors state.

The report also references “significant pressure from vested interests and their political allies,” who may see plant-based meats as a threat to Australia’s traditional livestock sector.

In January, a Queensland agriculture industry group reportedly requested a meeting with Coles after the supermarket championed new meat-alternative products in its free magazine.

The European Union has already banned dairy-free products from using terms like ‘milk’ and ‘yoghurt’, demonstrating how government oversight can curtail the branding possibilities in the sector.

Regulators should ensure “new emerging industries are supported to fulfil their potential, and protected from anti-competitive attempts to restrict market innovation, such as on key matters like product labelling and proposals to introduce unnecessary regulation,” the authors state.

Even with pandemic conditions curtailing restaurant sales for much of 2020, and the lingering power of the traditional meat industry, Food Frontier estimates the alternative meat sector could still reach between $1.4 billion and $4.6 billion in value in 2030.

But it’ll take a renewed appetite among shoppers, politicians, and investors to get there, the authors say.

“The time is ripe for significant research, policy and commercial investments, and greater collaboration among stakeholders
across the supply chain – from agriculture to food processing to retail,” the report states.