Generation Z is creating a $5 billion market for fake meat and seafood

Generation Z is embracing plant-based meat alternatives.

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Generation Z is embracing plant-based meat alternatives.
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Roman Evgenev / Shutterstock.com

    Generation Z is embracing a food trend that replaces animal products with plant-based alternatives. Startups that make fake meat and seafood are targeting college and university cafeterias for distribution, because it’s where they expect to find enthusiastic consumers. Global sales of plant-based meat are expected to top $5.2 billion by 2020.

Millennials have a reputation for killing all sorts of food-related industries and products, including casual dining chains like Applebee’s, cereal, light yogurt, and even beer.

Meanwhile, Generation Z is shaping a billion-dollar food market.

Fake meat is a fast-rising food category that could change the way we eat. It replaces animal products with alternatives made from plants that look and taste like meat, with the goal of reducing the global dependence on animal agriculture. Generation Z is embracing the trend.

Generation Z includes people born between the mid-1990s and mid-2000s, which means the oldest members of the demographic are getting ready to graduate college. This group makes up a quarter of the US population and will account for 40% of all consumers by 2020.

In 2015, Y-Pulse, a market research firm that specializes in millennial preferences, led a survey of college and university food-service operators. It found “plant-based menus” and “sustainable seafood” were among the trends their youngest students craved the most.

Research by Barclays shows that Generation Z consumes 57% more tofu and 550% more non-dairy milk than millennials. Many are part of a growing movement of “flexitarians” who eat meat and animal products sparingly.

According to Google Trends, public interest in a vegan diet has never been higher. Generation Z isn’t the only group interested. The substitute meat market is expected to grow 8.4% annually over the next three years, reaching $5.2 billion globally by 2020, according to Allied Market Research.

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The “bloody” burger from Impossible Foods is coming to college campuses nationwide.
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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

Companies that produce fake meat and seafood, ranging from “bloody” burgers to sushi made from tomatoes, have targeted college campuses as testing grounds for their creations. It’s a big market. Food service accounts for about half of ground-beef consumption in the US.

In October, startup Impossible Foods announced it will expand distribution of its vegan burger, which sizzles on the grill and bleeds juices like real beef, to universities and company cafes. Until now, consumers could only find the venture-backed burger in high-end restaurants including Chef David Chang’s Momofuku Nishi and gourmet chains like Umami Burger.

Impossible Foods opened its first large-scale production facility in September, which will allow it to produce at least four million meatless burgers a month by year’s end.

Ocean Hugger Foods' Ahimi claims to be the world's first alternative to raw tuna.

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Ocean Hugger Foods’ Ahimi claims to be the world’s first alternative to raw tuna.
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Ocean Hugger Foods

New Wave Foods, which manufactures an algae-based shrimp alternative, and Ocean Hugger Foods, which is working on plant-based seafood – including a raw tuna substitute made from tomatoes – have also set their sights on food-service companies as a path for distribution.

“College campuses feed the consumers of tomorrow,” Sharon Olson, cofounder of Y-Pulse, told Civil Eats in an article about seafood alternatives popping up in dining halls. “These students are developing habits of a lifetime, including products they’ll look for when they graduate.”

David Benzaquen, CEO of Ocean Hugger Foods, described the company’s relationship with food-service companies as a “natural fit.” Colleges and universities buy huge volumes of food, and young people show an open-mindedness when it comes to plant-based foods.

The world’s population is expected to top nine billion people by 2050 – a figure that has some worried there won’t be enough resources on the planet to support animal agriculture at that scale. Generation Z could at least put a dent in the world’s obsession with meat.