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Producing a purse- and planet-friendly steak alternative

Article-Producing a purse- and planet-friendly steak alternative

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Meet the startup producing plant-based, whole-cut steaks made with soy and wheat protein that beat the competition on price without costing the earth.

How consumers eat and perceive meat is changing. Driven by mounting environmental concerns, advancements in processing technologies, and a growing awareness of the role of diet in health, more consumers are switching conventional meat for plant-based alternatives. In 2022, global retail sales of plant-based meat totalled $6.1 billion, reflecting an 8% growth from the previous year, according to Euromonitor.

Alternative products not only cater to the growing contingent of vegan and vegetarian consumers, but also capture the attention of flexitarians, health-conscious individuals, and even carnivores. Land Lovers is one US-based startup that is aiming to tap into this growing market via its range of plant-based whole cut steaks.

Whole cut vegan steak in just four key ingredients

Illinois-based B2B startup Land Lovers produces whole cut beef made entirely from plant-based proteins and ingredients. Via its unique ingredient blend and patented technology, the startup has succeeded in replicating the taste and texture of animal muscle, without the need for time-costly and expensive genetic engineering or cellular agriculture techniques, it claims.

Land Lovers uses a proprietary blend of four primary ingredients to craft their whole-cut steak alternatives: soy protein, soy flour, water, and wheat gluten. The startup’s choice to opt for wheat and soy, rather than other popular plant-based alternative ingredients such as mushrooms, was a result of lengthy research conducted with various food consultancies and consumers to identify the ingredients that delivered the texture most resembling traditional whole-cut beef.

"We really tried to emulate that same texture that a steak has, that other beef plant-based startups haven't really been able to get yet," Jeffrey Zhang, national account manager at Land Lovers, told Fi Global Insights.

Consumer feedback to date has been positive and has facilitated collaborations with over 30 restaurants in Chicago, where a range of the startup’s products including chimichurri and smoky barbeque steak are currently on offer.

“We were able to play around a lot with our flavours and [blends] to really get the texture of the steak down and [the products] have been a really pleasant surprise with a lot of our customers […] as of right now, we’ve been received very well,” Zhang said.

Competing on price and taste

One factor that differentiates Land Lovers from other prominent plant-based steak manufacturers on the market is affordability. The startup’s whole-cut products price in at “anywhere between 30 to 50% cheaper than Beyond Meat and Impossible” depending on the distributor, according to Zhang.

Price remains a significant barrier to the widespread adoption of plant-based meat alternatives globally with many consumers perceiving plant-based meat products as more expensive than their conventional counterparts, a 2020 study from the Good Food Institute (GFI) found. When asked, consumers ranked price as the second most important purchase driver of plant-based products, after taste.

In the current landscape, where plant-based meat alternatives are on average 43% more expensive than animal-based products, according to GFI, one-fifth of adults cite price as the main barrier between themselves and meat alternatives, Mintel data shows.

Being placed at the lower end of the plant-based steak market gives Land Lovers a competitive edge in the marketplace and appeals to a wider consumer base, Zhang said.

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Placing sustainability at the forefront

Land Lovers’ name and branding reflects the startup’s mission statement of loving and respecting the earth. It was this passion for sustainability that was the driving force behind the company’s recent rebrand from former ‘Calculate’.

“On the [sustainability] front, we’re definitely doing our work,” Zhang said.

“Our process, while it still uses a decent amount of water, is much healthier than the amount of water used to grow conventional steak. It’s wheat-based and soy-based and those are two ingredients that require a lot less water to process [than animal agriculture].”  

Implementing a strong focus on sustainability and minimising environmental harm throughout its operations, the startup’s process uses around 80 to 90% less water compared to conventional steak production, Zhang said.

Overcoming consumer acceptance challenges

A common challenge faced by manufacturers of meat alternatives is in overcoming the stigma surrounding plant-based and vegan products. Bringing plant-based alternatives into the mainstream and appealing to a wider carnivore and flexitarian consumer-base via its products is a key priority for the company moving forward.

“Our goal as a company is to fight the stigma of vegan meat. Of course, there is a growing population of vegan eaters, but we are also trying to target people that want a lot of protein for a very lean amount of calories as well,” Zhang said.

Zhang’s personal experience serves as testament to the transformation the company is hoping to ignite in the market.

“I’m a carnivore and was never someone who ate vegan meat, but I tried this meat and I was amazed […] I didn’t even believe it was vegan meat and that’s what really shocked me,” he said.

Exploring new horizons

While its current focus is on the US market, particularly in Illinois, Land Lovers has plans to expand to San Fransisco and Los Angeles and is gaining traction by collaborating with a range of B2C partners across the US.

“Traction has been really positive since we started selling our products a year ago and right now, we're trying to scale and hopefully capitalise on the overall trend of vegan and alternative meats,” Zhang said.

Further afield, the company has its sights set on Europe in markets such as Sweden where the vegan food scene is already well-established.