The prices of plant-based alternatives raise the question: Why is meat so cheap?


In terms of sustainability, ethics and health, plant-based meat is becoming a stronger competitor to the traditional meat industry. Unfortunately, it still cannot compete with regular meat in one essential aspect - price. The situation is similar with other plant-based alternatives: milk, yogurts, cheeses. What accounts for these price differences and what would help herbal products gain more attention from buyers?

Once considered a luxury item, meat is a frequent guest in the bags of modern shoppers. In Lithuania, a kilogram of meat can be purchased from EUR 4 or even cheaper. It is not surprising that steaks, hams, sausages and other products reach the table of compatriots at least several times a day. Meanwhile, plant-based alternatives that are attractive in terms of sustainability make you hesitate - their prices are two and sometimes even four times higher.

Niche market, expensive ingredients and a drive to keep prices down

Although plant-based products are rapidly growing in popularity and demand, they remain a niche compared to animal products. The new market still lacks stability and production volumes are still small. The lack of optimization of processes, better infrastructure or technology often interferes, which is clearly reflected in the prices.

For the production of plant-based meat, ingredients are sought that not only replicate the taste and texture of conventional meat, but are also rich in protein. Often these are broad beans, peas, potatoes, fava beans, as well as chickpeas, oats, lupins, beans - products that are significantly more expensive than cheap animal feed made from wheat, corn or soy. The latter, by the way, would also be suitable for the production of plant-based meat, but in the minds of consumers, they have earned the label of undesirable, so innovative producers are avoided.

Interestingly, plant-based meat leaders such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods seek lower prices by selling mostly frozen produce. This method is applied knowing that supermarkets charge less for products in freezers than for products displayed in refrigerators - the latter are additionally insured due to a higher probability of failure. However, studies show, that this reduces the probability of alternative products falling into the hands of buyers - vegetable products placed next to non-frozen meat products are bought much more often.

The secret of the price of meat is subsidies

The huge difference in the prices of plant and animal products is provoked by unevenly distributed financing of the agricultural sectors. Globally, livestock and dairy producers, as well as feed producers, eat up the lion's share of government subsidies. This suggests nothing else, but the fact that keeping animals is expensive: farm maintenance, animal food, antibiotics, vitamins and other means are expensive. However, when states reimburse most of the costs, consumers do not feel the true cost - meat and other animal products seem cheap compared to plant-based products. Financial support for the development of alternative protein industries and vegetable and fruit growers would significantly change the market situation.

The conditions of keeping animals also have a great influence on the prices. Growing human population and wealthier societies lead to even greater consumption of meat, milk, eggs and other animal products, so animal welfare and the pace of industrial farms are becoming difficult to reconcile. Animals in such farms cannot meet their essential needs, they experience fear, stress, not to mention physical pain. While disregarding animal welfare is friendly to consumers' wallets, it is ethically costly.

Inflation is doing plant-based alternatives a favor

In February and June of this year, the independent researcher "Questionmark" together with the organization "ProVeg International" compared the prices of meat products and plant-based alternatives in Dutch supermarkets. Collected data was pleasantly surprised - a number of plant products were cheaper than meat products. Vegetable mince became cheaper the most, becoming even €1.36/kg cheaper than the traditional one.

The reason for the changes is the significantly higher price of meat - due to changes in the prices of raw materials and inflation, its price jumped as much as 21 percent. Meanwhile, the prices of herbal alternatives changed slightly: they remained similar or rose up to 2 percent.

A similar situation also observed in Germany comparing the prices of milk and milk alternatives. In less than a year, whole milk has risen by 29 cents a litre, surpassing that oat and almond milk prices.

Although plant-based product alternatives still face various development, technological and other challenges, in terms of efficiency and resource consumption, it is a food that meets the needs of a changing world. It is likely that the warming climate and geopolitical tension will not create conditions for cheap meat products, so the price gap between plant products and meat products will shrink even more, and alternatives will become popular.

Success message!
Warning message!
Error message!