Supermarkets fail to provide meat and dairy alternatives, study says

Steak searing in a pan with rosemary on top
Plant-based steak made with 3D printer, photo: Reuters

Supermarkets and food companies are not providing enough meat and dairy alternatives. They are also not setting concrete ‘protein transition’ targets for the number of plant-based foods they plan to offer, said a report published Wednesday. 

Scientists link overreliance on meat, dairy and other animal proteins – especially from intensive farming – to a range of problems, including climate change, poor health and animal cruelty.

The new report points to work by the UK National Food Strategy, an independent review published in July, which said the country must cut meat consumption by as much as 50% to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

The report, compiled by an investor network called FAIRR that manages $40 trillion in assets and encourages companies to reduce their reliance on animal proteins, offers a ranking of best to worst ‘protein transition’ companies.

At the top, companies with the best plans and targets for delivering meat, dairy and other animal protein alternatives to consumers are Unilever, Tesco, Nestlé and Sainsbury’s.

At the bottom of the ranking, the companies with the poorest ‘protein transition’ plans were listed as Costco, Kraft Heinz, Amazon (owner of Whole Foods) and Walmart.

In terms of concrete targets, the report’s press release praised Unilever for its commitment to increasing sales of alternatives to animal meat and dairy by about 500%, to €1 billion between 2025 and 2027.

The supermarket chain Tesco was praised too for its commitment to a 300% increase in sales of alternatives to animal meat by 2025.

Overall, however, the report found that most food firms have failed to lay out “formal targets for boosting the number of meat and dairy alternatives they make and sell,” said Jo Raven, FAIRR’s senior manager for research and engagement.

In total, the report’s press release said 18 out of the 25 food brands studied “have yet to establish formal targets to diversify their protein sources despite high consumer demand”.

This, the report said, showed that the companies lacked a clear strategy to make the best of “a growing market trend” as consumer demand for plant-based alternatives boomed. 

Dollar sales of plant-based foods, it said, have jumped 43% in the last two years, while the US market for the meat and dairy alternatives market expanded by 300% between 2019 to 2020.

For investors, FAIRR said, that means “many companies are still behind the curve, failing to protect themselves from costly climate risks from meat and dairy production, reputational damage and looming regulation on protein transition.”

Speaking from the UK, Raven added that current supply problems in the UK were “yet another example that our current food system is not fit for purpose.”

Raven pointed to warnings from Britain’s meat slaughterhouses that shortages of CO2, the gas used to stun animals before slaughter and vacuum pack meat products, could result in meat “disappearing from the shelves”.

Another risk related to the CO2 shortage, Raven said, is that if animals cannot be killed in slaughterhouses, many might instead have to be killed on farms.

Farms are generally not equipped for slaughtering animals, and last year COVID-19 related slaughterhouse shutdowns in the US led to mass culls of animals.  

Farmers used cruel methods such as foaming, which essentially drowns animals, and overheating by shutting down ventilators to kill their animals.

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