In a sure sign that plant-based meat has gone mainstream, a new group of ‘meatless meat’ producers have entered the market – the very meat producers and giant food conglomerates the new plant-based products were designed to disrupt.

Plant-based meat lookalike products are increasingly appearing alongside real-meat alternatives in fast-food outlets and grocery stores throughout the US, The New York Times reports.

Over the last few months, food companies such as Tyson, Smithfield, Perdue, Hormel and Nestlé have introduced their own meatless equivalents of products such as burgers, meatballs and chicken nuggets.

No longer seen as being a fringe product, meatfree is growing in popularity and becoming a staple for many consumers aware of health concerns over meat eating as well as its impact on the environment.

Meatfree now means money. Beyond Meat, a startup producing plant-based meat, has seen its share price soar in the last five months, and a deal for meatfree company Impossible Foods’ to supply plant-based Whoppers to Burger King has whetted the appetite among fast-food chains to offer similar products.

Observers forecast the plant-based protein market, along with the new breed of meat-lookalike products, could be worth as much as $85 billion by 2030.

“There is a growing demand out there,” John Pauley, the chief commercial officer for Smithfield, one of the largest pork producers in the States, told The Times. “We’d be foolish not to pay attention.”

Nestlé released its Awesome Burger in September this year, and Smithfield now has a range of soy-based burgers, meatballs and sausages. Hormel offers plant-based minced meat.

Meanwhile, blended products, combining meat and plant products, are being trialled: Tyson is introducing a part-meat, part-plant burger. And Perdue is selling blended nuggets – mixing chicken with cauliflower and chickpeas.

“When companies like Tyson and Smithfield launch plant-based meat products, that transforms the plant-based meat sector from niche to mainstream,” Bruce Friedrich, who runs the Good Food Institute, which advocates plant-based meat substitutes, told The Times.

Many big food companies began producing plant-based meat alternatives or other vegan products some years ago. But they are now doing so in earnest, and especially so over the past few months.

“The entire end-to-end process happened in less than a year,” Justin Whitmore, Tyson’s executive vice president for alternative protein told The Times. “We’ll move with the consumer, and we have the capacity that helps us move quickly.”

Sourced from the New York Times; additional content by WARC staff