Is It Time For Product Managers To Go Meatless?

What role can product managers play in the creation of meat product substitutes?
What role can product managers play in the creation of meat product substitutes?
Image Credit: Kelly Garbato

So let’s see a show of hands. Who here enjoys a delicious, juicy, burger? Hmm, I don’t see everyone’s hands going up, but I do see just about everyone’s hands going up. There is no question that in the developed 1st world countries, people do love their meat. There’s just one problem – it turns out that it’s really expensive in terms of land, water, and feed to raise the animals that produce all of that meat. As the rest of the world starts to develop a taste for protein, we’re just not going to be able to keep doing things the way that we’re doing them today. Looks like its time for the product managers to step in and lend a helping hand by changing their protein product development definition.

The New World Of Meat-Product Substitutes

So the first question that you should be asking is “if I don’t make my burger out of beef, then what would I be making it out of?” That, it turns out, is a very good question. There are a number of different meat-product substitutes out there: a fungus, a meal worm, plants, or perhaps even simple peas. The reason that product managers are getting interested in meat substitutes is because there is currently a big consumer trend where people are looking to eat more protein. Animal protein takes up the biggest footprint and can’t be grown enough to meet the need. What this means is that there are a lot of new companies with product managers who are trying to expand their portfolios of products in order to meet customer’s needs who are not only concerned about what they are eating, but also how it has been grown. Get this right and you’ll have something to add to your product manager resume.

Product managers are asking what do their customers really want? It turns out that what customers are asking for are healthy foods that contain minimally processed ingredients all of which have been sourced in a way that has done no harm to the environment. In the U.S., the consumption of both meat and poultry grew by 6% during 2014-2016. Where things get even more interesting is when you take a look at what happened to meat substitutes. Sales of products that use meat substitutes grew by 16% over the same period to reach US$700M in 2016. It it anticipated that the sales of meat substitutes will reach $863M by 2021.

What product managers are discovering is that consumers are starting to demand more plant-based meat substitutions. What this means is that firms are going to have to create alternatives to traditional animal products. The solutions that are being investigated are starting to come from a number of diverse sources. Key among these are plants such as jackfruit which has the ability to be turned into a pulled pork substitute. Additionally, another approach is to use technology to grow traditional meat from self-reproducing animal cells. Large firms such as Pepsi have become interested in meat-substitiutes. Pepsi is trying to lower the amounts of sugar, fat, and sodium that they put into their products. They would like to move to products that contain whole grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy and protein Such products now represent 27% of Pepsi’s net revenue.

The Way Of The Future

So what are product managers looking for when they consider possible meat-substitues? They want ingredients that are most importantly affordable, that are easy to produce, and will end up having a minimal impact on the flavor and texture of existing products. The challenge that product managers are being faced with is that anything that contains protein in it can cause problems when cooked. What can happen is that it can denature, curdle, gel, or simply ends up tasting bad. Foods with protein in them are not easy to cook with. Pepsi is trying to accomplish this by taking conventional ingredients and giving them a new form. An example of this are oats that are soluble in water. This allows protein rich oats to be consumed as a beverage.

The fundamental problem with the way that meat is created currently is that we use so much water, land, and energy that it’s simply not going to meet the worlds growing need for protein. One important possible source of protein is insects. Product managers are willing to consider insects because raising livestock requires much more land, water, and fossil fuels per pound of meat produced than insect farming does. However, there may be issues in getting people to eat insects – generally speaking, they are not pleasant to look at. Any move to having people get some or all of their protein needs from insects will require time to implement.

As product managers start to investigate what types of meat substitutes customers will be willing to eat, they need to understand what attracts someone to a particular protein. One key point that product managers are going to have to understand is that their customers are not going to want to eat the same type of protein every day. This means that product managers are going to have to spend their time determining how they can create a mix of proteins that will result in customers having a “better mouthfeel”. Additionally, the goal is to help to create a more complete amino-acid profile of the protein that customers are eating. Manufacturers can accomplish this by looking into ways to diversify the crops that they use to create their meat substitutes. The best products will probably consist of a variety of protein sources.

What All Of This Means For You

The world is getting hungrier each and every day. The developed nations have long enjoyed the taste of a good steak or burger. However, now as the rest of the world starts to catch up, it is becoming apparent that we have a problem on our hands. The cost of raising livestock based on land, water, and energy means that we are not going to be able to meet the world’s demand for protein. Product managers are going to have to get busy, take a look at their product manager job description, and find new ways to create the protein that the world will be demanding.

There are a number of different meat-product substitutes out there: a fungus, a meal worm, plants, or perhaps even simple peas. What product managers are starting to discover is that customers not only are interested in what they will be eating, but also where it comes from and what environmental impact it has had. Customers are asking for healthy foods that contain minimally processed ingredients all of which have been sourced in a way that has done no harm to the environment. People have been eating both more meat and more products that contain meat substitutes. Consumers are starting to demand more plant-based meat substitutions. Pepsi understands this and has already started to make changes to how they produce their products. Meat substitutes have to be affordable. The challenge is that it can be very difficult to cook with foods that contain protein. Product managers are going to have to consider insects as a source of protein as they strive to provide their customers with a mix of meat substitute products.

There is no question:the way that we produce food products that contain protein is going to have to change. It’s just too expensive to keep doing it the way that we are doing it. Product managers are being tasked with looking into how various meat substitutes can be used to meet the world’s growing need for protein. This is a problem that can be solved, product managers will simply have to study their customer’s reactions to various possible solutions in order to find the correct one.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: What will happen to traditional meat when meat substitutes become widely available?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Let’s be straight about a few things: the world in which we live is currently changing. A lot. Nowhere is this more evident than perhaps when we take a look at how consumers go about buying food. This used to be a simple task: people jumped into their cars with their food shopping list in hand and drove to the local grocery store and got what they needed. However, with the arrival of that internet thing, this is all starting to change. People are now starting to shop for food online. What this has meant for food company product managers is that their world is changing. Case in point. People who are shopping online tend to just buy exactly what is on their shopping list. Nothing else. This means that product managers have to come up with ways to change their product development definition so that they can convince them to add last minute items that they may not have been planning on buying. How are they going to do that?