Plant-based meat turns Brazil greener with new business opportunities
Written by: Niko Israel Darlington
From: São Paulo, Brazil
Edited by: Vanessa Facuri
When you think of Brazilian food, all-you-can-eat steakhouses and family “churrascos” usually come to mind. But as technology improves, more and more Brazilians are willing to give up the beef they grew up on and go green, creating a new business opportunity for startups and established food companies experimenting with plant-based meat.
Due to growing concern over the effects of beef production, over the last six years the number of vegetarians and vegans in Brazil has increased by two times, to over 30 million people, or 14% of the population. And according to a study conducted by Datafolha in 2017, over 63% of Brazilians would like to reduce their consumption of meat. According to statista.com, Brazil is also by far the world's largest beef exporter, expecting to export around 2.7 million tons of beef and veal in 2021. With the world's population expected to rise to around 10 billion people by 2050, demand and consumption of meat will increase significantly, and so will its negative effects, including deforestation and global warming, meaning alternatives are needed now more than ever.
The reason so many people around the globe have reduced their consumption of meat is due to both the health concerns and the negative effects on the environment. In past years, Brazil has experienced an increase in cases of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, all of which can be caused by the overconsumption of meat. Additionally, it has played a huge role (65%) in the rise of deforestation in the Amazon Forest, which is a primary contributor to climate change. Motivated by these concerns, US companies such as Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods and other "food-techs" have invested in this industry.
Now, the trend is taking off in Brazil. Beef is very culturally important for many Brazilians and for years, reducing meat consumption meant finding alternatives that didn't taste or look like beef. As the managing director at the Good Food institute Brazil, Gustavo Guadagnini, told the New York Times in a recent interview: "suggesting that Brazilians stop eating meat meant asking them to give up a core part of their identity." The modern options have made going vegan or vegetarian a lot easier. Brazilian startups like New Butchers and Fazenda Futuro are new companies that produce plant-based foods, offering specialties like burgers, chicken and sausages that look and taste like the real thing but are made from plant proteins, in this case mostly pea protein. Even Brazil’s giant food companies like JBS are investing in plant-based meats with their line of “Incrível” products sold under the Seara brand.
"It's a growing segment globally...we will be a relevant player in this sector," JBS Chief Executive Gilberto Tomazoni told Reuters news agency in a recent interview.
A difficulty that the vegan and vegetarian industry has faced is the price barrier. Although it is becoming more economically viable every day, plant-based foods and alternatives are not as affordable as real beef. This is because the production process is more expensive and it's a smaller market with less production. On the other hand, the depreciating value of the Brazilian Real has benefited the industry in terms of exports.
Apart from the obvious environmental and health benefits of plant-based foods, companies and start-ups have invested in the industry also due to financial reasons. Because the plant-based food sector has been thriving in recent years, companies have taken advantage of the 'golden' opportunity to meet the soaring demand. New Butchers, for example, has managed to expand their brand to 300 supermarkets across the country, and Futuro Fazendo is now valued at around $150 million.