Images of red meat cabinets in supermarkets stripped bare while plant-based products sat untouched during pandemic panic buying last year are proving a big hurdle for the fledgling alternative protein industry to overcome.
As prominent plant-based burger maker Impossible Foods cuts its prices in United States grocery stores to try to regain consumer ground, Australian advocates have invested in research to address issues such as the reputation alternative proteins have attracted for being highly processed and high in sodium.
Food Navigator USA has reported Impossible Foods have dropped the suggested retail price for its two-patty packs by 20 per cent.
The publication reports Impossible Foods' ultimate aim is to undercut conventional meat prices and quoted its chief communications officer as saying: "For every dollar spent on Impossible Burgers at US grocery stores, 82c comes at the direct expense of animal-derived foods".
Food Frontier, an independent think tank and expert advisor on alternative proteins in Australia and New Zealand, seems to be more about diversifying the world's protein supply rather than wiping out livestock industries.
It has released a comprehensive nutritional analysis of plant-based meat in partnership with accredited practising dietitian Teri Lichtenstein.
The report found plant-based meats are nutritionally superior or comparable to similarly processed conventional meat products.
On average, plant-based meats have lower or comparable kilojoules and sodium, higher or comparable protein and lower fat and considerably lower saturated fat, according to the report.
It also addressed perceptions that eating plant-based meats would mean not getting enough quality, complete proteins or micronutrients under a 'myth busting' section.
Marketers say the report is an attempt to tackle many of the key reasons consumers who are looking to reduce their red meat consumption have not turned to plant-based burgers.
Food Frontier's head of industry engagement Karen Job, speaking at an online seminar hosted by the University of Sydney's Centre for Advanced Food Enginomics last week, said the majority of media commentary describing plant-based meats as unhealthy referenced the fact they are processed foods.
"It's important to acknowledge that most plant-based meats currently on the market are alternatives to conventional meat products that also are inherently processed - burgers, sausages, hotdogs, bacon and deli slices," she said.
The report had been positively received, both in Australia and internationally, she said.
It had been downloaded more than 1600 times, had over four million media impressions and its authors had been invited to speak at a seminar hosted by the UK government to inform their national food strategy.
The controversial EAT-Lancet report, released in 2019, which advocates a reduction in red meat consumption and a much larger focus on plant-based components in diets, was discussed in the seminar.
Ms Job spoke about 'incredibly familiar headlines', presenting a slide of 'eat less meat' messages.
"These are not just the opinion of journalists. There are many, many reports from large, well-respected organisations and institutions that paint the picture," she said.
"One of the overarching messages is that we need more protein for a growing population.
"The EAT-Lancet report showed we need the agricultural space of nearly two planets to meet the world's protein needs by 2050. This stat brings home the need for alternative proteins."
It wasn't, however, about the complete elimination of animal protein diets, she said.
"We don't need everyone to go to the extreme (of becoming vegan). It's about balance, about re-proportioning the share of food groups on your plate."
EAT-Lancet calls for a 50pc reduction in the consumption of red meat and a doubling of nuts, fruits, legumes and veges, Ms Job said.
"It was controversial, and still is, and its dramatic suggestions caused heated debates - that's exactly the debate we need to have," she said.
"Sometimes you have to propose going too far to achieve the actual targets you need to."