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Plant-based meat alternatives are delicious, but often more expensive than the original animal. But the more people switch to veggie burgers & Co., the cheaper it gets – and the sooner we can get out of industrial animal farming.


A kilo of potatoes for one euro, a kilo lentils or beans for three to four euros: vegan staple foods are not expensive. And with a few simple steps, you can also make delicious veggie burgers – but of course they taste different than those made from “real” minced animal meat. Those who, on the other hand, prefer to reach for vegan sausage, cheese and schnitzel in the supermarket often have to dig deep into their pockets. Because these are industrially processed finished products – only that plants are processed here and not living, sentient beings.

Convenience products like these are of course convenient – and that lowers the barriers to trying something out. On the other hand, the higher price scares off many customers – and calls consumer advocates into action. The accusation: manufacturers rip off their customers, and low-income earners cannot afford the products. Yet they are the ones who – in purely statistical terms – consume the most meat. So why don’t manufacturers simply make their substitute products cheaper – and thus affordable for the masses?

Vegane Produke im Kaufregal

Immense investment costs

The animal industry also enjoys huge competitive advantages due to the established structures. Newcomer Plantbased has immense investment costs – from product and process development to machinery, sales and, not least, communications and marketing. The livestock industry has a strong lobby and huge advertising budgets, it can buy listings in the supermarket.

The Newcomers have to invest a lot to get noticed at all. Especially since the products need to be explained: For many people, it is not clear why they should buy a “substitute” made from soy that is three times as expensive as the cheap schnitzel from the supermarket – and which may even taste different from the usual product.


Minced meat would be three times more expensive

In addition, the prices of meat in the supermarket are not real prices. Environmental damage, for example, is not included – it is a burden on the general public and future generations. These include the greenhouse gases generated during production, the contamination of soil and groundwater with nitrates and drug residues from manure, the high consumption of energy and water, and the clearing of rainforest for animal feed. If all this were taken into account, 500 g of mixed minced meat would not cost 2.80 euros in the supermarket, but 7.60 euros – almost three times as much. That have Researchers from the universities of Augsburg and Greifswald recently calculated.

There is no government incentive tax to cover these so-called externalized costs. Instead, the state still supports the livestock industry with more than 13 billion euros annually, according to a recent Study. Subsidies include tax breaks such as the reduced VAT rate on animal products, i.e., seven percent instead of 19 percent, government services, consulting and social benefits, and also subsidies for upstream and downstream sectors of the economy, such as the slaughter, transport and marketing of animal-based products.

Obesity, world hunger and pandemics

Meat prices also do not include the costs that burden our health care system. In Germany, we consume 60 kilograms of meat per capita and year – twice the maximum amount recommended by the German Nutrition Society. Our diet is responsible for more than 70 percent of diseases. There are more than two billion overweight people worldwide – while 811 million people go hungry. This also raises the question of whether the calories can be distributed more fairly.

Especially in view of the growing world population: We cannot satisfy them with animal proteins, in which we put in five to ten times as much energy as we get out. In addition, the antibiotics that are used on a large scale in the livestock industry get into the environment and cause resistance. Not to mention the pandemic risks posed by factory farming, which scientists have been warning about for years.

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Investment in meat substitutes most efficient

The fact that meat consumption must fall if we are to stop climate change is also seeping more and more into the collective consciousness. This is increasingly being addressed in the media – for example, the recently reported Spiegel about a report by the Boston Consulting Group, according to which investments in plant-based meat substitutes have the best effect on climate protection: they beat savings measures of climate-damaging CO2 and other greenhouse gases in other areas by far in their efficiency.

Even politicians are now talking about it – not least Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir, who is himself a vegetarian. Influencers on social media are putting the pressure on, from Greta Thunberg to Luisa Neubauer to Rezo. And more and more doctors are also pointing out the benefits of plant-based diets. A prominent example is TV doc Eckhart von Hirschhausen, who recently wrote in Focus: “Eating less meat means doing without – heart attacks and strokes.”


Meat companies get in on the act

More and more producers of animal products are realizing that they need to diversify if only to secure their own existence. They are setting up their own veggie divisions or buying innovative startups. Not infrequently because they have children who show them where the trend is going. Or investors who are shifting their portfolios toward plantbased – for example, into one of the vegan food startups that are currently mushrooming everywhere.

New vegan products are entering the market every week, competing for a place on the supermarket shelf. The trade itself comes along with own brands, from Edeka with Vehappy over Rewe with bio + Vegan up to Lidl with Food for Future.

They all want a piece of the growing veggie pie. The management consultants from Kearney estimate that by 2040, 60 percent of meat consumption worldwide will come from alternative protein sources. The number of vegetarians and vegans is growing constantly and more than half of Germans already call themselves flexitarians, according to the BMEL Nutrition Report.


Why meat alternatives make you happy

Vegan substitutes help with the transition. These can transfer a familiar into the new, vegan world – without the harmful side effects. Why this is so important is due to our biology: when we eat familiar food, we have a positive feeling. Our brain produces the happiness hormone dopamine when we have nice memories – and that motivates us to repeat them.

We are still talking about a niche market for meat substitutes, even though it is growing steadily. But as more and more people get their hands on it, thanks to mass production, prices will fall here too. By the way, the responsibility also lies with the retailers: They often flog meat as artificially cheap loss leaders, but expect profit margins of 35 to 40 percent for veggie products – compared to eight percent for meat.

However, the goal cannot be to produce and consume schnitzel for everyone ad nauseum, but rather to motivate as many people as possible to eat a plant-based and sustainable diet. Then it may be on Sunday also times a Schnitzel – if it is then vegan.

Meat substitutes are even said to be more environmentally friendly and healthier than animal products. Which many Steak lovers do not want to admit, recently however a study of researchers of the University of Oxford confirmed.


Lab meat on the rise

Or perhaps soon from cell cultures. Or from precision fermentation. At the moment, we are still in the process of replicating conventional flavors: the products are getting better and better, in terms of taste, texture and mouthfeel. In this way, the industry also reaches people who simply want to try something new and then realize that the substitute product actually tastes just as good to them as the conventional salami.

But the Prices for lab meat are falling right now. The first products could be on the market as early as next year. Milk and fish from cell cultures or precision fermentation are also unlikely to be around much longer. In the not too distant future, there will be perhaps ten different salamis in the supermarket, and at most one or two of them will still be made from conventional meat.

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