IN THE NEWS: On JUN 23, 2019
For the 2 million Australians who have given up eating animals, the rise of "alternative meat" means it's never been harder to make a decision at a restaurant.
Demand for plant-based protein has surged in recent years, with manufacturers and takeaway chains constantly introducing new products to keep up, according to IBISWorld research. Alternative meat has become so popular, it's threatening the local market for meat and dairy producers.
"This surging demand for plant-based alternatives represents a growing threat to local demand for meat and dairy products," said IBISWorld senior industry analyst James Caldwell.
"The Australian Meat Processing industry now generates over 60 per cent of its revenue from overseas, and we expect this number to rise over the next five years."
Research group NPD Group says 2 million Australians are vegetarian, 8 per cent of the population. Females make up almost two out of three of those seeking more plant-based options, and Millennials more than half.
Fast food outlets such as Hungry Jacks, Oporto, Grill'd and Ogalo sell veggie burgers, but the real surge in popularity has come with "alternative meat" burgers that resemble beef, chicken, pork or fish but are actually made from plants. Chains such as Lord of the Fries specialise in vegan hamburgers and hotdogs, while others such as trendy Huxtaburger have added it their range.
Dean Epps, is the general manager at Life Health Foods Australia, which owns the Alternative Meat Co. brand sold at Coles supermarkets and Huxtaburger restaurants.
The products are flying off the shelves, he said. The first shipment to Huxtaburger was expected to last a month but sold out in under a week.
"We were pleasantly surprised. We expected it to go well - we would have been happy to achieve our original forecast, so anything on top of that is a bonus," Mr Epps said.
Using a composite of pea, wheat and soy proteins along with herbs, spices and vegetables, the company offers three products so far at Coles - a burger patty, a sausage and mince. About 70 per cent of their ingredients are Australian-sourced.
"It's one thing to want to switch, it's another to have the courage to go through with it - and that's where we fit in. We've created products that we consider to be a zero willpower switch for someone who currently eats meat," Mr Epps said.
Mr Epps said that there were three key drivers behind people taking up a plant-based diet: health, animal welfare concerns, and the environment. Eating less meat is one way to reduce the greenhouse emissions causing climate change.
"Going back five years ago, a plant-based diet wasn't seen in that way," he said. "Now, it's one of the key things that any individual can do to help the planet."
Amit Tewari is one consumer who made the switch due to those three reasons - transforming the burger restaurant he had opened into an all-vegan smorgasbord in the process.
His company, Soul Burger, has four outlets in Sydney with a menu offering more than two dozen food items.
"I want Soul Burger to be the epitome of plant-based food in Australia. To do that, we couldn’t not do hot dogs, or not have chicken wings. We don’t want to turn our back on anyone."
He estimated 80-85 per cent of customers weren't vegans or vegetarians - they were either there with friends or curious about the products on offer.