Beef Shortage Boosts Meat Alternatives

U.S. meatpackers warn of possible pork and beef shortage
Photo credit Tim Ryan/KCBS Radio

Beef prices continue to rise, not because of a shortage of cattle but a shortage of healthy workers to butcher and process them. Several major beef processing plants in the U.S. have experienced coronavirus outbreaks among workers.

As consumers adjust their eating habits because of the ongoing shortage, plant-based alternatives are getting a boost.

“Just in the past month, we have increased our availability in grocery stores 18-fold,” says Rachel Konrad, spokeswoman for the Redwood City-based Impossible Foods. The company is best known for its mostly soy and potato-based Impossible Burger that can be cooked and eaten rare like a traditional beef burger. The company’s products were in 150 grocery stores at the beginning of the year, and can now be found in 2,700.

The sale of alternative meat products at grocery stores soared by 264% in the nine weeks leading up to May 2, according to Nielsen data. While some of that can be attributed to a shift from restaurant to retail sales, red meat production dropped in early May by 28% compared to the same period last year, according the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

“And we see absolutely no risks to our supply change due to COVID whatsoever,” says Konrad, who says a potential coronavirus outbreak would not impact Impossible Foods in the same way as traditional meat production. “Soybeans are you know are one of the most abundant crops in the world and certainly in America. They are also a very highly mechanized crop to harvest.”

Most of the company’s burgers are processed at a plant in Oakland. But while alternative meats like Impossible Foods, its competitor Beyond Meat and even cricket-based protein bars are seeing growth, the industry’s growth is still dwarfed by traditional meat.