When it comes to food, you might think that there is nothing more traditional or unvaried as meat, which is the major source of protein for much of the world. But the meat universe is changing as a result of consumer and environmental demands, facilitated by industry innovations and new scientific breakthroughs.

A recent seminar, Craftsmanship & THE FUTURE OF MEAT hosted by GEA at its facilities in Bakel, the Netherlands, engaged participants’ five senses, providing inspiration and insights into the world of meat and protein for processors from around the globe. The GEA Food Processing team presented the latest developments and product concepts, focusing on sausage, burger and bacon applications. Sharing the stage with GEA were several leading industry players, including: co-host and functional ingredients supplier Vaessen-Schoemaker; global flavors and fragrance supplier Givaudan; sausage equipment manufacturer Handtmann; Mosa Meat who creates the production methods for cultured meat, as well as global food consultancy Gíra.

GEA CutMaster
GEA CutMaster

Participants were able to see, for example, first-hand how sausage is prepared (via the GEA CutMaster) and turned into snack sausages and then filled into casings (via the Handtmann ConProLink system). The casings in this demonstration were made from sea algae, a plant-based alternative to intestine or artificial casings and were developed by Vaessen-Schoemaker subsidiary, Agersol. Edible, free of allergenic substances, preservatives and non-GMO, alginate casing is well-suited for meat, vegetarian and vegan sausages and gives producers diverse options in terms of color and appearance. It is also less at risk to price fluctuations and therefore a reliable and efficient solution and offers an enhanced stuffing performance in comparison to traditional casings, including greater flexibility and elasticity – ideal for challenging applications like sausage which are twisted at the ends and often sold hanging.

Snack sausages, whether made of meat or other protein sources, are becoming increasingly popular in North America, Europe and also Asia Pacific as consumers shift towards savory, protein–based versus sweet snacks. Their popularity is a result of an infusion of flavors, new product types, their portability and value for money.

Because the GEA CutMaster can also vacuum, cook or cool, additional equipment is no longer required.

- Friedrich Maier, Head of Sales Steering Meat Treatment, GEA

Crafting the future of meat - Multijector
Pork cuts leaving the GEA MultiJector which features 2mm injector needles delivering the highest quality and accuracy to the art of bacon making. Consistent color and taste, improving shelf life, high yield and low cost.

Another highlight during the seminar – also reflecting the more mindful purchasing habits of consumers: the production of nitrate-free bacon. Featuring ingredients know-how from Vaessen-Schoemaker that addresses demands for healthier food products with fewer and more natural ingredients, the stage was then turned over to GEA to showcase its ground-breaking inline production concept for bacon: beginning with injection on the new GEA MultiJector 2 mm; inline drying and smoking with the GEA CookStar; freezing with CALLIFREEZE; slicing on the GEA DualSlicer and packing on GEA PowerPak thermoformer – which includes GEA’s OxyCheck quality assurance system.

Market insights and customer trends

According to food researchers at Gíra, several key trends are emerging when it comes to consumers and meat. The first is that rising population and increasing disposable income are driving meat demand in developing countries where the focus is on price, with a preference for poultry and pork. Conversely, meat consumption in developed countries is primarily going down as consumers vary their protein intake to include more plant-based options. They are also more likely to consider nutrition, animal welfare and environmental concerns in their purchases, with younger consumers viewing food choice as an extension of their identity. Consumers in developed countries are also willing to pay a bit more for their premium choices.

Across the board, households are smaller, requiring smaller portions, with consumers willing to pay more for this convenience, which also minimizes food waste. Another major factor is increasing urbanization which will change where and how meat is purchased. However, this will be driven by local needs and customs, meaning there is no one-size-fits-all solution. That said, the globalization of the food industry means developments in one market can be quickly copied in another, whether it’s demand for a certain cut of meat, flavor or level of quality.

The rise of the flexitarian

Meat alternatives are becoming increasingly popular in developed markets (e.g. U.S., Canada, Europe), where people are reducing their meat intake. Known as ‘flexitarians,’ these occasional meat eaters, or conversely, casual vegetarians, make up a larger category than say, vegetarians or vegans. To capture this growing market, processed meat companies have introduced meat-free variants in their range, however, in order for these new protein foods to be successful, according to Gíra, they will need to:

  • be less expensive than meat and cheaper to produce
  • taste as good
  • deliver good nutritional impact
  • be well marketed 

Don’t forget the sensory pleasure!

Crafting the future of meat - sensory pleasure

Taste, mouthfeel and aroma play a vital role in people’s eating experience. Likewise, many of today’s consumers have other needs and demands when it comes to their food, which includes an increasing interest in natural ingredients, a greater appreciation for craftsmanship and homemade qualities, as well as a growing concern for the environment and animal welfare – meaningful indulgence. To recreate the taste complexity of traditional cooking methods, Givaudan offers the following tips to ensure that consumers keep coming back for more: 

  • Integrating slow-cooking and multi-step preparations and interactions
  • Leveraging ethnic and fusion flavors from around the world
  • Using fermented and cured notes
  • Giving products an authentic story to tell

When it comes to eating pleasure, the burger is one of those foods that lands high on the list. During the Bakel event, participants were invited to take part in the “Battle of the Burger” during the lunch break. On the menu: a classic beef burger, a soy, meat-substitute burger and a 100% vegetable burger. “The vote among participants revealed that more than 95% of them believe that the high quality meat burger will be with us forever, but nearly the same percentage (>90%) believe that alternative protein sources will be commonplace for future generations,” says Harrie van Beers, Product Expert Preparation, GEA.

The burgers were prepared and cooked using a combination of GEA equipment, demonstrating their ability to meet changing consumer demands and high quality standards. For the traditional beef burger GEA used: the PowerGrind, ProMix and MultiFormer. For the vegetable burger the CutMaster, ProMix (incl. ColdSteam M) and MultiFormer. And for the soy-based burger the ProMix, PowerGrind and MultiFormer.

Eating within our environmental means

There’s no denying that there are changes underway when it comes to meat and the broader category of protein. And while consumer preferences are shifting, global demand for animal protein is expected to double by 2050. A major concern is that without concerted action, our food system, of which livestock production is a major part, will exceed key planetary boundaries beyond which ecosystems are at risk of being destabilized. 

One company who is taking this challenge head-on is, Mosa Meat, the Dutch company that created the world's first cultured hamburger. Their goal: to create a solution that will make the mass production of cultured meat affordable, and to have products on the market by 2021. Assuming it can be done, the facts are impressive: With the muscle stem cells from a single cow, the entire U.S. could be fed on burgers for a day and a half.

Future-proofing a changing industry

While traditional meat-based foods are not going away any time soon, what is clear is that consumers want more options, without compromising taste or nutrition. What events like the one in Bakel show is that partnering up, keeping an open mind and informing oneself are the best way to ensure that we’re all ready to meet consumer expectations and demands today and in the future.