Over the past few years I've been trying to eat more and more vegetarian meals both to reduce how much meat I eat and reduce costs. Bulking and cutting for physical fitness is an expensive endeavor, so any time I can I want to explore these potential options. I've been making things with ground meat substitutes for a while now and I generally like them. There have been more and more companies coming out with products, and they're a decent substitute for meat.
Right now adoption of these kinds of products is pretty low. The main two I use for ground meat substitutes are a 'crumbles' product from Boca, and a ground meat substitute from Beyond Meats. I also eat a good number of the products that a local company called Field Roast makes. These products are not as cheap as you would think considering they contain no meat. When not on sale the Boca crumbles are typically $6 for 12 oz, and Beyond meat is $6 for 11 oz. I believe that the cost versus the amount you're buying is one of the main reasons these products aren't catching on.
To start with why is anything in a quantity less than 1 lb? This means you can't easily substitute it in for a recipe that calls for ground beef, and even worse you have to buy 2 packages to get a pound. This leaves you with extra product that you had to pay more for, and that you have to leave in your freezer, so realistically these products are about $8 per pound. This is not a realistic price point for most people to consider these products over ground beef or turkey. I often times choose turkey over the available options because it's a lot cheaper and has significantly more protein.
I know a large part of this is simply due to economics of scale, but companies like Boca have been around for a long time and these meat substitutes are sometimes discounted as much as 50%. So why are they so expensive at other times? Alternatively Beyond Meats sometimes offers a $1 coupon, but that still puts their product at over $7 per lb which is way too much considering the alternatives.
There are other products available such as TVP (textured vegetable protein), and tofu, but these aren't going to be as easily incorporated into the American diet as meat substitutes. So how can manufacturers get over this? To begin with they need to look at reducing costs, either through heavy discounts or trying to build their scaling up more to reduce their overhead. I have no idea what the breakdown of costs looks like in these products but any sort of advantage they can offer there would go a long way towards getting them on to more tables.
In addition to this manufacturers need to stop selling their product in packages that are less than 1 pound. I have no idea who thought this was a good idea, or even why they do this. It just makes the entry level too high and makes it inefficient for people to purchase their products. As an enthusiast consumer of these products I deal with it to try them, but these companies are going to have to step up their game if they expect the average person to choose meat substitutes over meat and they need to make that barrier to entry as low as possible. I believe they can definitey do it, they just need to make sure they're catering to the average consumer.
If lab grown meats can become a decently priced substitute I see no reason to use the vegetarian alternatives but we'll have to see what the future holds.