Meat industry shrinks as more Australians embrace flexitarianism

Soaked broad beans give Neil Perry's vegetarian fettuccine a super-creamy texture.
Soaked broad beans give Neil Perry's vegetarian fettuccine a super-creamy texture. Photo: William Meppem

Australia's meat consumption is at its lowest point in 25 years as Australians increasingly move towards environmentally conscious dietary habits. 

According to new data from market research company IBISWorld, the country's meat consumption per capita currently sits at 99.5 kilograms annually, levels not seen since 1996-97. 

Fast food companies are on board the vegan train: Hungry Jack's launched its plant-based Rebel Whopper in 2019.
Fast food companies are on board the vegan train: Hungry Jack's launched its plant-based Rebel Whopper in 2019. Photo: Marta Pascual Juanola

As a result, the meat processing industry is expected to contract by 10 per cent in 2020-21, falling to $22.2 billion. 

"The domestic price of meat has risen at an annualised 3.1 per cent over the past five years, driving more consumers to seek vegetarian alternatives," said IBISWorld senior industry analyst Suzy Oo.

"This has expanded target markets for plant-based products beyond vegans and vegetarians."

Deliciou is one of many Australian companies to enter the meat-alternatives market.
Deliciou is one of many Australian companies to enter the meat-alternatives market. Photo: Supplied

According to the report, public concern over environmental issues has risen by an average of 1.2 per cent annually over the past five years, reflecting greater awareness of unsustainable farming and forestry practices. 

Cattle, sheep and other livestock account for nearly 70 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions by the agribusiness industry.

Shannon Martinez is the owner-chef of Melbourne's Smith and Daughters plant-based restaurant. She said there has been a significant uptick in foot traffic for her vegan food.

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"I think there's been a huge shift towards plant-based diets because the connotations associated with veganism have moved away from crazed hippy to just being responsible and ethical." 

Although Martinez serves vegan food, the chef isn't entirely committed to plant-based eating herself. She credits some of Smith and Daughter's success to the fact consumers tend to trust her more because of this. 

"It's a bit weird, but people regularly say things like 'you just get what we want to eat'. I'm flattered, but really, the reason meat-[based] meals taste good isn't actually because of the meat, it's generally the flavouring."

Shannon Martinez said there has been a significant uptick in foot traffic for her vegan food.
Shannon Martinez said there has been a significant uptick in foot traffic for her vegan food. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen

Chef Brent Savage also reported increased patronage at his Sydney plant-based restaurant Yellow over the past two years.

"I myself don't cook meat but will eat it out," he said. "A lot of people that come to our restaurant are doing the opposite and use their weekends to embrace vegetarianism or veganism. It doesn't have to be extreme, you can see by the numbers that these little changes help." 

Producers and meal solution companies have been jumping on the plant-based trend. Meal delivery company Marley Spoon recently partnered with Fable, for example, a mushroom-based meat alternative.

New meal delivery kid on the block Soulara is now giving established dinner kit options such as HelloFresh and Marley Spoon a run for their money with their entirely plant-based operation. 

In 2019, the Australian Heart Foundation also updated its dietary guidelines to recommend people reduce their red meat consumption, proposing a limit of less than three servings – or 350 grams – of lean and unprocessed beef, pork, lamb or veal per week.

"It's pretty hard to open the paper these days and not see the effects of eating meat from live exports, factory farming, and the environment and I think that's why people have transitioned from thinking vegans are crazy hippies to doing the right thing," said Martinez.

She still acknowledges it can be hard to convert "meat and three veg" people to incorporating other ingredients. "My approach is to just sneak it into their diet in the hope they enjoy it without noticing there isn't any meat!"