Lu Ann Williams, director of innovation at Innova Market Insights, quickly explained how meat substitutes and meat alternatives are changing the food industry.

“It’s really not about the meat department anymore,” she said July 16 at IFT18, the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and exposition in Chicago. “It’s about the protein department.”

Yves Potvin, a chef and founder of the Gardein brand of plant-based protein products, gave an analogy.

“I see the market developing very much like the electric car business,” he said.

While hardly anyone drove an electric car 20 years ago, Teslas are popular today, he said. Car companies are noticing reasons why to offer both gasoline-powered cars and electric cars. Likewise, meat companies might consider also offering meat alternatives featuring plant protein, especially since innovation is coming in many types of plant protein, from soy and wheat to peas and potatoes.

Sweet potato falafelMr. Potvin and Ms. Williams both spoke in a meat alternatives session. Mr. Potvin said the meat processing industry is more than 400 years old, but the meat alternatives market is only about 30 years old.

“It’s really an infant,” he said.

Ms. Williams gave Innova Market Insights data showing the market is growing. Innova tracked about 100 new products launched globally in 2007 that were meat substitutes. The number was over 500 in 2015.

Innova Market Insights, Duiven, The Netherlands, in 2017 contacted people who already were eating meat substitutes and meat alternatives, asking them if they were increasing or decreasing their intake of such products. In the United States, 44% said increasing. The percentages were higher in China (74%), Mexico (65%), the United Kingdom (54%) and Germany (53%). When asked why they were increasing their consumption of meat alternatives and meat substitutes, the top three answers were healthy, more variety is now available and it’s more sustainable/planet friendly than meat.

Ms. Williams gave beet and carrot fritters and sweet potato falafel as examples of meat alternatives. Plant-based burgers and sausages were examples of meat substitutes.

Soy protein and wheat protein still dominate as alternative plant-based ingredients to meat, she said. Global product launches of meat alternatives with pea protein increased 35% from 2013 to 2017. Protein from rice, fava beans, potatoes and lentils also are appearing in meat substitutes and meat alternatives. Ms. Williams said she has seen a black bean burger in Switzerland and a nut burger in The Netherlands.

Just Scramble“In terms of ingredients that you want to choose, there is a very wide choice,” Ms. Williams said. “What can you combine to get to the right taste, the right texture and, of course, the right cost for your consumer?”

The alternative protein trend could expand beyond meat, too. Ms. Williams mentioned fish-free tuna made from pulse ingredients and Just Scramble, a vegan alternative to scrambled eggs made from mung bean.

In the question-and-answer segment, Ms. Williams was asked about lab-grown meat.

“I think it’s a ways away, but we will absolutely all be eating it probably in 10 years,” she said.