Bellwethr Magazine

Protein Poseurs

Consumers’ growing interest in ethical and healthy eating contributes to the increased popularity of meatless food alternatives.

WORDS BY Thomas Scott // ART BY Colleen Lowery

The next time you venture down the frozen-food aisle, don’t be surprised if you spot some soy protein Chik’n nuggets a few shelves away from actual chicken nuggets and meatless Boca burgers next to choice chuck beef Bubba Burgers.

Meatless alternatives are on the rise; Kellogg’s MorningStar Farms and Kraft’s Boca Foods are the leading brands in this market. According to the 2013 Meat Alternatives Report by Mintel, the chain market, supermarket, and specialty supermarket sales of meatless alternatives increased from $513 million in 2010 to $533 million in 2012—an 8 percent growth in just two years. MorningStar leads the industry, carrying 35 different meatless products, followed by Gardein with 22 and Kraft’s Boca with 18. These  products try to emulate the taste and texture of meat, using ingredients such as soy, tofu, tempeh, and seitan. The primary ingredient in MorningStar Farms Chik’n Nuggets, for example, is a textured vegetable protein. Boca’s All American Flame Grilled burger patties imitate real beef by including caramel color and cheese powder and are browned in corn oil.

The primary consumers of meat alternatives are people looking for healthier ways to eat. “People are more aware now, or they’re hearing more about ways to improve their bodies and their health,” says Christina Chotiwat, a registered dietician. “A lot of times going more toward a vegetarian lifestyle is part of that.”

According to Mintel, as of March 2013, 46 percent of consumers from 18 to 24 years old reported using any meat alternatives, with 26 percent using them at least once a week. And 43 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds are consumers of meatless products.

Deborah Madison, a vegetarian chef, teacher, and winner of three James Beard awards (she won the Vegetable Literacy award in 2014 for her newest book, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone), is excited to see young people interested in what they consume. “On the whole, young people are aware that there’s something other than what they’ve known that probably would contribute more to their health,” Madison says.

Registered dietitian and founder of Wellness 4 Life Katherine Fricke says a lot of her clients ask her about the meatless food alternatives they see in the stores. “Vegetarian lifestyle is becoming a lot more popular now because it’s so accessible,” Fricke says. “It’s no longer just at your health foods store.”

Grade-A beef or a veggie alternative? It's not easy to spot the difference. PHOTO BY COLLEEN LOWERY.
Grade-A beef or a veggie alternative? It's not easy to spot the difference. PHOTO BY COLLEEN LOWERY.
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