To eat meat or not to eat meat, that used to be the question. Nowadays, the question has become even more existential: what is meat anyway? 

With backing from Silicon Valley, celebrity investors, and Big Food, animal-free meat alternatives are on the verge of going mainstream. And the proof is plain to see. Grocery stores are stocking their shelves with fake meat and it’s featured on the menu at restaurants from White Castle to Momofuku. There’s that, and the fact that Beyond Meat recently filled for its initial public offering, seeking to raise $100M in hopes to become the first plant-based company to go public. 

But even with the global meat substitute market set to reach $7.5B by 2025, a full-on move to a meat-free future is unlikely. While startups like Impossible Foods want to replace animals in the food system by 2035, Tom Hayes, CEO of Tyson Foods, says he “can’t imagine a world where there aren’t animals raised and used for human consumption”. Interestingly enough, as Tyson pulls in $40B in annual revenue from slaughtering and processing animals, they’re also an investor in a trio of animal-free startups — Beyond Meat, Memphis Meats, and Future Meat Technologies. 

According to Hayes, he sees animal-free proteins becoming “a substantial part” of the $200B market for meat. As he puts it, “If we can grow the meat without the animal, why wouldn’t we?”

b3f06754-5f0c-42cc-b194-085361c1e558.jpgThe Rise of Meatless Meat → 

Whether it’s health concerns associated with eating meat or the environmental impact of animal agriculture, more and more Americans are choosing to reduce meat consumption, seeking out plant-based and lab-grown substitutes instead. With attention to and investments into meat alternatives at an all-time high, and a billion-dollar industry taking shape, it’s worth considering a few valid questions: which startups will define the future of protein? Where do meat industry incumbents fit into the mix? And how will consumers react to a world where their meat doesn’t actually come from an animal.