The plant-based companies shaking up the meat market

March 10, 2021

Written by Benedict Nicholson

While plant-based ‘meat’ options have been available for a number of years, the level of coverage and general interest paid to the practice have really come to the fore since 2018 with the rise of Beyond Meat and other newly-launched alternatives.

We looked back at the last year to see which brands have received the most coverage, and who they’re partnering with to achieve their goals of providing a genuine alternative for people that want to eat less meat. 

We’ll start with which companies drove the most engagement. 

The most engaged vegan meat alternative brands

For this analysis, we are looking specifically at coverage that mentions specific brands, rather than the industry trends as a whole. For the purposes of this study, we have narrowed it down to Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods, Morningstar, Gardein, Quorn, Hungry Planet, and Clara Foods.

Bar chart showing the most engaged plant-based meat companies in the last year

Between them, these brands had articles written about them that collectively received some 2.1 million engagements, and as the chart shows that engagement was dominated by Beyond Meat, who received 1.7 million engagements. Impossible Foods also had a significant level of engagement in the last year, with 500k, but the other five combined for just over 100k engagements between them. 

But what is it that was driving the engagement for these brands? 

The top articles about plant-based meat alternative companies

The top articles overall were almost all about Beyond Meat, so we’ll start with those before diving into the others.

Table showing the top articles about meat alternative brands
The vast majority of the top articles about plant-based meat alternative brands were about partnerships with either a celebrity or a brand. The top article had more than a quarter of a million engagements and was about Snoop Dogg helping donate Beyond burgers to hospital staff during the pandemic as part of a campaign to thank them. This narrative appeared twice in the top ten, with VegNews also writing about Snoop Dogg, albeit with a tenth of the engagement.

The rest of the top ten were mostly about brand partnerships, with Taco Bell, KFC, and Pizza Hut featuring strongly thanks to a partnership between Beyond and their parent company Yum! Brands. The top article was about Taco Bell bringing back its popular potatoes, and bringing in Beyond Meat as an option on the menu. The top article about this came from VegNews, and had almost 200k engagements. 

As this was such a popular topic of article, we expanded our search out to the top 100 articles to see which companies and celebrities were most often featured as partners of the alternative meat providers.

Number of partnerships with plant-based meat companies by brand among the most engaged stories
Out of the top 100 articles by engagement, 49 were explicitly about some kind of partnership or endorsement between the vegan meat brands and celebrities. The most frequently mentioned individual company of these was McDonald’s, which featured in seven of the top articles, while Starbucks featured in five. Taken as a group though, Yum! Brands was mentioned 11 times, with Taco Bell and Pizza Hut being mentioned four times each individually, and alongside KFC a further three times. KFC on its own was mentioned twice in addition to the above statistics.

While Beyond did have most of the top articles, there were significant engagements for the other brands too. Impossible Foods’ CEO Patrick Brown garnered attention when he told CNBC that the company’s mission was to make the meat industry obsolete within 15 years. Use by celebrities was a winner for Morningstar in terms of coverage, with Lizzo sharing a recipe on TikTok for spicy Jamaican patties that contained the company’s meat-like crumbles.

Gardein’s top article came in the form of a new product launch, with their meaty soups garnering almost 20k engagements via a VegNews article. Quorn also saw success in the partnerships department, with the announcement of their partnership with soccer team Liverpool FC responsible for the majority of the brand’s engagement. The top article came from Liverpool’s own website, and it received around 16k engagements.

But which sites are producing viral articles? As the top articles show, it is a long way from the traditional newspapers and cable news channels. In fact, a whole media infrastructure has arisen around plant-based meat news, as the chart below shows.

Most engaged publishers writing about meat alternative companies
The most prominent website for news about the identified companies was VegNews, which had more than a quarter of the total engagements. LIVEKINDLY, which is based around identifying and reporting about cruelty-free products, also featured prominently with more than 440k engagements. Between them, these two websites have around half of the total engagements. 

The other prominent websites are a mix of the traditional and food-specific websites, with NBC the biggest of the former and Plant Based News and Eater prominent examples of the latter. As the market expands, highly engaged coverage is only likely to get more common.

If you’d like to monitor and predict engagement with plant-based meat coverage, check out NewsWhip Spike.

Benedict Nicholson

In addition to leading the NewsWhip Research Center in New York, Benedict Nicholson manages partnerships with internationally recognized media outlets furthering data journalism, which includes NewsWhip’s Data for Democracy program. Benedict also facilitates consultations with communicators from the top 10 public relations agencies across America and Europe and with Fortune 500 brands to discuss consumer engagement trends and effective media monitoring. Email Benedict via benedict.nicholson@newswhip.com.

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