What Happens When Plant-Based 'Meat' Is Cheaper Than the Real Thing?

CC BY 2.0. Sarah Stierch

Pioneers are already making inroads into the market. But once economies of scale kick in...

TreeHugger has been following the mainstreaming of plant-based "meats" with great interest, and there's no doubt that vegetarian alternatives to burgers and sausages are reaching beyond the hardcore vegetarian crowd and making inroads into decidedly omnivorous markets.

Yet there's one big barrier that might be holding them back: Price.

In my latest encounter with an Impossible Burger at a local movie theater, for example, I noticed that the vegetarian version was $3 more expensive than its bloody counterpart. There's a similar premium charged by my friends at Bull City Burger and Brewery, and I know for a fact that they are not profiteering off the introduction. (Update: Bull City Burger just reached out to let me know they no longer serve the Impossible Burger. Here's more on why, and what they do instead.)

But while these high-tech, hard-to-find meat analogs are currently more expensive than their animal-based competition, there's no reason why they should always be so. In fact, between the inherent efficiencies of cutting out the middle-man/cow to the benefits of being able to locate manufacturing closer to the consumer, it stands to reason that plant-based meats will eventually scale to be the cheaper alternative—especially if any form of meat tax makes its way onto the statute books. Indeed, an article by Clive Thompson on the future of fake meat over at Wired suggests Impossible Foods are eventually aiming to undercut Safeway's 80/20 hamburger meat, a point at which many consumers will simply choose vegetarian because it's cheaper—regardless of whether or not its better for the planet or their bodies.

And the best news? Competing on price will mean plant-based meats will continue to replace the cheapest, unhealthiest, cruelest and least delicious forms of meat out there.

Bring it on.