- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Sales of plant-based meat alternatives are widening and finding new markets during the coronavirus pandemic, as concerns mount over health and safety issues at food-processing plants and a potential meat shortage.

“We are seeing an explosion of products and public acceptance to plant-based meat alternatives,” Sheril Kirshenbaum, co-director of the Michigan State University Food Literacy and Engagement Poll, told The Washington Times.

“We’ve had vegetarian alternatives for meat as far back as the Song dynasty … but this new generation [of products] is really being designed to taste and smell and feel in your mouth like meat,” Ms. Kirshenbaum said, referring to the Chinese family that ruled from 960 to 1279.

Impossible Foods, based in Silicon Valley, announced this month that its “meat made with plants” will be sold in 1,000 new supermarkets, such as Albertsons and Safeway, across Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and California.

What’s more, the global marketing research firm Nielsen Corp. reported last month that sales of meatless alternative protein products had increased by more than 200% during the coronavirus compared to the same period last year.

The plant-based, meat-substitute industry appears to be holding its own, if not surging, as processors of animal products express concern about the nation’s supply of meat. On Sunday, John Tyson, chairman of Tyson Foods Inc., the nation’s largest meat producer, warned that the U.S. food supply chain “is breaking.”

Last week, officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention visited one of the country’s largest meat-processing facilities that closed after nearly 800 workers tested positive for the coronavirus. The Smithfield Foods Inc. plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, produces up to 5% of the nation’s pork products.

Concerns about food processing extend beyond the Midwest. On Virginia Eastern Shore, poultry plants owned by Tyson and Perdue Farms are operating even though local hospitals have reported scores of the companies’ workers have come in contact with coronavirus victims.

But the Trump administration has insisted that such facilities must remain open to feed the country. President Trump signed an executive order Tuesday that mandates meat production plants to stay open to prevent a food shortage.

“Our nation’s meat- and poultry-processing facilities play an integral role in the continuing of our food supply chain,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said Tuesday.

But Ms. Kirshenbaum said for many consumers, especially millennials, climate-friendly, health-conscious alternatives to beef, pork, and chicken are increasingly routine.

And in a study last fall by Michigan State University researchers found that nearly half of Americans under 40 already are eating plant-based meats, compared to just 27% over 40.

The overall number of Americans saying they had an aversion to plant-based meats had dropped from 48% to 40%.

Those figures have proved hard to ignore by at least one meat producer: In a move that angered some producers, Tyson last summer announced it would expand its plant-based products.

“Major retail and foodservice customers have expressed interest in what Tyson Foods can bring to the alternative protein segment, which is estimated to be a multi-billion-dollar category and continues to grow,” the company said in a statement.

χ This article is based in part on wire service reports.

• Christopher Vondracek can be reached at cvondracek@washingtontimes.com.

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