The Meat Industry's Puzzling🧩Productivity Paradox

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Good (cold 🥶🧊) Monday, fellow nerds! Coming at you with the weekly news roundup as the wind howls past the windows, doing a surprisingly good impression of January. ⛄

But news around the food industry is still hot! 🔥 This week, we’re taking a look at how the meat industry is trying to adapt to pandemic challenges — while plant-based entrepreneurs are busy innovating their socks off 🧦 in a bid to transform the market.

Meat Industry Scrambles to Modernize in Light of Pandemic-Related Challenges 🥩

It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic revealed some glaring problems in the food system, including the meat industry. In response, giants like Tyson are looking to technology 👨🏻‍💻 for solutions.

The meat industry is rushing into the future and developing robotic systems to automate some of the repetitive tasks line workers usually handle, but variations in size, color and shape continue to be challenges. Hopes hinge on a largely autonomous future for certain operations that can help overcome the issues with worker shortages and safety problems that have long plagued Big Meat.

The other goal here? Productivity. 📈 And therein lies the problem: Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the health 💊 and environmental 🌎 impacts of meat-heavy diets, and its precipitating an almost inexorable shift away from anything produced via factory farm. Implementing technology to further speed up meat processing suggests the possibility for a corresponding increase in actual meat production — in other words, more demand for more animals.

It’s a potential side effect that’s almost as scary as Tyson shifting inspection duties from the USDA to their own workers… 😰

Meanwhile, Oat Milk & Meat Alternative Sales Explode

You can’t ignore the statistics: People are buying more plant-based meat and dairy. Whether due to health concerns, curiosity or shortages of animal meat 🍗 during the pandemic, Nielsen data shows sales numbers shot up in the 31-week period ending October 31 of this year.

How much? 212% for oat milk, 129% for alternative meats and 51% for alternative cheeses. (Yeast also had its 15 minutes of fame with a 156% rise. 🍞) It’s an almost bizarre set of numbers when viewed against the backdrop of the meat industry’s experiments with automation.

(The rapid rise of oat milk appears to be largely unexplainable, given that milk alternatives have been around for over a century. (Really! Soy milk started making its mark in 1901.) Almond milk continues to be the most popular choice, but for now, oat milk has overtaken soy milk as a consumer favorite. 🥛

People continue to cook and eat more at home then they did prior to the pandemic, even with restaurants and food service businesses opening back up in some areas of the world. 🍴 While the increase in plant-based product sales may not be directly related to this phenomenon, there is a trend toward experimentation, especially as more companies enter the market.

Setbacks Are No Match for Dedicated Plant-Based 🌿 Entrepreneurs

In the midst of all these changes, the entrepreneurial spirit remains strong in the plant-based space. Accelerators like Foodbytes! are helping companies get established, enter the market and grow at a time when consumers are turning their attention to new and interesting alternatives.

The idea is to come together and create products that support common goals. From sustainability to food waste to food allergies, plant-based entrepreneurs are putting their collective energies into far more than grabbing market share. 📊 By and large, the industry is powered by a dedicated group of business owners seeking solutions to the needs they see as most pressing in the modern food system.

My greatest concern regarding this week’s trends and headlines lies in the paradox of attempting to increase efficiency within the meat industry. It makes little sense to pour so much effort into producing more meat, especially considering the impact factory farming has on the environment, society and health. 🐄

I also find it rather baffling that the industry is attempting to increase output in a market where there’s already a surplus of animal foods. This was a problem even before the pandemic, and challenges within the supply chain continue to compound the issue.

Yes, surplus food can be rerouted to people in need, but fixing the supply chain 🔗 and addressing distribution and access inequalities would seem to be a better approach and than pouring more health-damaging foods 🤢 into an already saturated system.

Where do you stand? Should robotics and automation have a place in the meat industry, or do you believe a plant-based movement is poised to take over? 👇🏻👇🏻

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