Appetites building for blended meat

Consumers may prefer blended meat and vegetable ‘meatballs’ over 100% plant-based products, writes Jack Thompson.

Blended, or hybrid meats are a relatively new class of products where a fraction of the meat product is replaced with alternative plant-based proteins. However, replacing too much of the meat can put consumers off.

New research by a collective research project in Belgium and Germany, MeatHybrid, reported that around 50% of consumers showed willingness to buy a hybrid product. The blend of 30% pea protein and 70% meat offered the best balance across taste, colour and texture metrics. 

Participants and experts alike rated blended meatballs higher than 100% plant-based options with an overall score of 6.66 out of 10, compared to 5.36 for the Beyond Burger. The standard beef burger scored 6.32.

Despite performing high on smell, texture and meaty taste were lacking in blended and plant-based meats, both with less than 50% approval in this area, highlighting room for improvement and product development. 

“This study shows that a meat hybrid with a relatively high share of 30% plant-based proteins can still attract consumers,” the experts wrote in their paper for Frontiers in Nutrition. However, “about 50% of consumers still would (rather) not buy the tasted product. This gap must be closed.”

Previous research has showed the potential of blended meats to reduce supply chain emissions. Researchers at the University of Oxford suggest that if McDonald’s and Burger King (which together represent 2-3% of global beef purchases) swapped 50% of the beef in their burgers for plants by blending burgers it would cut greenhouse gas emissions by 34MtCO2e per year. Another 17MtCO2e would be removed as 8.5 million hectares of land “reverts to nature”. The total savings of 51MtCO2e equate to 80% of their net-zero targets. 

The MeatHybrid study demonstrated blends could be a win for health as well as the environment: replacing meat with pea protein reduced the fat and calorie content while increasing the vegetable and nut content. 

Although there is much attention on the development of plant-based products, preference for meat endures in European markets. Whether hybrid products could have more impact and take more share of the market than 100% plant-based alternatives is moot. Price will also be a factor.

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