Restaurateurs and caterers will have to fundamentally rethink their menu design over the next 10 years as rising global demand for meat and wider awareness about its environmental impact make it less easily affordable.
That's the prediction from David Read, chief executive of supply chain consultants Prestige Purchasing.
Speaking to an audience of restaurant operators and buyers at Prestige's Menu 2020 seminar, Read, who is not a vegetarian himself and said he was not preaching but attempting to forecast market conditions, predicted that meat would be less fashionable by 2020. He expected consumers to readjust their attitudes in the face of rising meat prices, which also push up the prices of other commodities and foodstuffs involved in meat production, and more awareness about how its production affected the planet.
World meat supply has grown from 71 million tonnes in 1961 to 248 million tonnes in 2007. Per capita meat consumption in the West has doubled over that period, and quadrupled in the developing world, he claimed.
"All protein pricing is probably going to rise higher than food inflation, which is going to make meat look reasonably expensive on menus. We are already doing a project with a steak chain right now where they are no longer able to acquire the product in order to make the margin they want to hit the £20 price point they need to hit to sell their steaks," Read said.
"We have had a 20-year period when food pricing has been relatively stable and running at below general inflation. That has changed and it is not going to be like that anymore. Organisations that understand those trends will change their menu construction to manage themselves through what will be a raw materials stress period."
Meanwhile, growing health concerns about the high level of meat consumption, particularly in western diets, would also play a role in consumers' dwindling enthusiasm for meat. On average the UK public consumes 110g of protein per day, which is around twice the recommended Government level. Meanwhile, the average US consumer eats 230g of meat per day.
Read said that more research into the effects that high meant consumption has on human health would probably help curtail meat consumption.
And some operators were better prepared for the challenge than others. "Leon has got it right, I think," he said. "Their customers do have a higher propensity to take mixed dishes, but if you look at the dishes, the blend of protein vs vegetable vs grain is significantly different to most other chains. If they put in less protein they can make more money and if they design their menus properly they can still have great flavour."
Meanwhile, those chains that had menus specialising in meat, such as the steak chains would have to concentrate on making their supply chain work. "They will need to go further and further up the supply chain and start contracting with farmers to take margin out of the supply chain, but people will always pay for quality," he said.
By Neil Gerrard
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