More and more consumers are looking at meat analogues, or plant-based products that simulate the properties of traditional meat products in order to reduce their meat consumption. Vegetarian and vegan products are a growing trend due to health, animal welfare and sustainability concerns. Modern meat analogue products can offer roughly the same composition of nutrients as traditional meat products.
The drive towards more plant-based foods is not focussed only on healthier foods anymore. A meatless plant-based burger patty uses 95% less land and 74% less water, and it emits about 87% less greenhouse gas than making a ground beef burger patty from beef. The plant-based burger has more protein, less total fat, no cholesterol, and fewer calories than a similar-sized hamburger patty made with beef. It contains however more sodium and more saturated fats than an unseasoned beef patty. 
These plant-based products are completely free of any animal-sourced content. It mimics the structural functionality of different types of meat like chicken, beef, fish or pork. Latest processing technologies like twin-screw extrusion allows food manufacturers to create world class, meat analogues that satisfy the dietary needs and health concerns of consumers without compromising taste, look, or feel. You literally get meat-like products that look like chicken, taste like chicken but it’s not chicken!
The major sources of plant-based proteins used in meat analogues are soy and wheat protein gluten, while other protein sources such as legumes/pulses (pea, lentil, lupine, chickpea, and others), and fungi (myco-protein, yeasts, and mushrooms) are also used.
The marketplace for meat analogue products in Europe and North America has expanded beyond just vegetarian consumers. It now also includes meat eating and meat loving consumers. According to Mordor Intelligence (2019), the market snapshot of the meat analogue marketplace is expected to grow at a 7.9% compound annual growth rate between the years of 2019 and 2024. Overall, the global plant-based meat industry is predicted to reach USD$21.23 billion by 2025. This implies a market growth of about 50% over the next five years.
Companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods have been leading the markets in North America in developing modern meat analogues from plant proteins. A Stanford biochemistry professor started Impossible Foods in 2011. In total, Impossible Foods has raised $687.5 million over 12 rounds of funding. The total valuation of Impossible Foods in 2019 raised to $2 billion. Beyond Meat was founded in 2009 by Ethan Brown. The company has products designed to simulate chicken, beef, and pork sausage. As of July 2019, Beyond Meat had a market value of US$11.7 billion! Beyond Meat’s burger patties are available in selected South African retailer shops, but it is expensive.
Latest advancements in extruders and specific twin-screw extruders have been central in the development of modern meatless meat analogue products. With twin-screw extruders it is now possible to produce meat analogues with the same attributes as real meat. When prepared in a dish it is often impossible to distinguish between the meat analogue and the real meat product.
CFAM Technologies is a South African company that was established in 2007 with the aim to commercialise twin-screw extruders for Africa and the developing word. It is a spin-off company of the North-West University and the only manufacturer of twin-screw extruders in Africa.
Extrusion is a continuous high pressure and high temperature cooking process that is used to produce ready to eat products such as instant porridges, breakfast cereals, puffed snacks, pet foods and aqua feeds. Latest developments focused on meat analogues from plant-based proteins. The extrusion plant forms the backbone of the product value chain between the farm gate and the end consumer.
CFAM’s extrusion equipment is backed by more than 20 years of research and innovation at the Faculty of Engineering at the North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa. It focused its research on developing safe, nutritious, affordable foods from locally produced agricultural products. CFAM is well positioned to assist the South African agricultural sector in developing new products to beneficiate locally produced agricultural products. Extrusion is therefore one of the technologies that do not take away jobs but create jobs since it creates: a market for farmers’ produce, jobs for semi-skilled people, empowerment, and also assist in local economic revitalisation of remote areas.
One of the latest developments at CFAM has been the development of its own meatless burger patty. Although it is completely plant based, one of the best attributes of the meatless burger patty is the fact that it turns in colour from meat like red to meat like brown when the patty is prepared on a grill.
“Our research and development is aimed at providing the normal man in the street with safe affordable and nutritious foods” said Prof LJ Grobler, director of CFAM and head of its R&D department. “It is our mission to develop new applications of extrusion that is affordable and made from locally produced and sourced agricultural products. As a country and region, we need to beneficiate our produce locally in order to make us more competitive globally” Grobler said. He further emphasised that extrusion as processing technology is ideally suited for Africa since it is a clean energy efficient processing technology that generates no waste stream in contrast to other food processing technologies. Extrusion therefore has the ability to assist Africa in tackling topical issues such as malnutrition, food security, job creation, empowerment and even climate change!
The meatless burger patty revolution is already in South Africa! South African companies will however have to move quickly to get a share of the local market!
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Prof LJ Grobler is professor in Mechanical Engineering at the North-West University, South Africa. He is founding director of CFAM Technologies, a spin-off company of the North-West University. Email: [email protected]