What's the beef with plant-based meat? The growth of alternative meat

A plant-based burger with crisp lettuce, sliced tomato and onion on a golden bun

Nicola Dowse

Posted April 22, 2022

Plant-based meat is here to stay, with increasing consumer demand for non-animal products leading to a surge in sales and dedicated plant-based butcheries.

Australian diets are changing. Look around a supermarket or a restaurant menu and you’ll see more vegetarian and vegan options than ever before, with an increasing number of people in Australia reducing or minimising their meat intake. 

With plant-based diets and meals on the up, whole new industries have sprouted, ready to cater to growing consumer demand for faux meat and alternative protein sources. 

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the number of meat and dairy substitutes purchased at Australian supermarkets grew by 29 per cent between 2018 and 2021, and the CSIRO identifies plant-based protein ingredients and new plant-based products as key growth opportunities for Australia.  

The industry is booming, and by 2030 the Australian government expects spending on plant-based meat to reach $3 billion. 

Victoria's first vegan butcher | RACV

What is plant-based alternative meat?

In simplest terms, plant-based meat is an imitation or fake ‘meat’ derived from non-animal sources.  

These sources commonly include soy, legumes like pea, fungi, wheat or rice. Plant-based meat products often also include additional vegetables, spices, natural colours or flavours, starches, and vegetable oils. 

These alternative plant-based meats are often manufactured to replicate the look, feel and flavour of animal meats. As such, they are often sold as burgers, sausages, smallgoods, mincemeat and roasts. Plant-based meat is also known as fake, faux, mock, imitation or vegan meat, or as plant-based protein.  

The growth of the industry hasn’t been without controversy, however. A 2022 senate inquiry recommended that plant-based meats not be allowed to use animal descriptors in labelling, and that their placement next to animal-meat products in grocery stores be reviewed. 


Amanda Lethlean, founder of the Kynd Butcher, standing behind the counter in the store. A sign that says 'Kynd' hangs on the wall behind her with a leafy green wreath around it

The Kynd Butcher is a 100 per cent plant-based butchery that sells sausages, burgers, deli meats and more.

The butcher with no meat 

Amanda Lethlean is the founder of the Kynd Butcher – Victoria’s first plant-based butchery based out of Ascot Vale.  

She says the business started after she swapped to a plant-based diet and quickly became tired of having to scour supermarket shelves for suitable products.  

“I kept thinking it would be great to have a one stop shop for all your plant-based needs.  No need to read labels or try and work out what had animal protein and what didn't,” she says. 

“We like to call it a butcher because we want people to be connected with the idea that you can swap up a meat-eating meal into a plant-based meal by just changing your sausage, burger or chicken schnitzel.” 

The butchery sells a wide variety of faux meats, including sausages, deli meats, bacon, roasts and burgers, as well as plant-based dairy products and a small grocery line. The store makes its own mince in-house, with some of the most popular products being plant-based salami and vegan feta cheese. The store also stocks gluten-free plant-based products. 


Plant-based sausages on display in a refrigerated cabinet at the Kynd Butcher

Plant-based faux meat can be made from soy, pea protein and other legumes, fungi and other non-animal ingredients.

Why people are eating plant-based meat 

Gone are the days where you need to be exclusively vegetarian or vegan. Many people now are simply swapping out meat for a plant-based protein once or twice a week. “People are becoming more likely to get out of their comfort zone and prepare a few meat-free meals,” Lethlean says. 

In her experience, Lethlean believes people are trying plant-based foods for health, environmental or animal welfare reasons.  

The environmental credentials of a plant-heavy diet are well established, with research from the University of Sydney indicating that greenhouse emissions could be cut by 61 per cent if the world’s highest income nations switched to a plant-focused diet.  

Speaking on the research, Dr Diana Bogueva from the University of Sydney says, “Adopting a plant-based diet is among one of the most powerful things a person can do for the climate.”  

Eating a diet rich in plant-based foods also has several health benefits. Nutrition Australia, the country’s peak body on community nutrition education, notes that a plant-based diet has been associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers when compared with a diet containing both plants and meat. Substitute meats can also be high in protein compared to traditional meat, depending on the ingredients. 

That’s not to say all plant-based foods are created equal. As the industry grows, you shouldn’t’ assume all commercial plant-based foods are automatically healthier. “It’s important that issues like food additives, the introduction of new allergens, as well as potential reductions in food quality, are all considered when designing the next generation of plant-based foods,” Dr Bogueva says. “Plant-based diets need to be safe and nutritious, while also being good for the environment.” 

Tips on how to cook and eat plant-based meat 

Many of the items sold at supermarkets as well as at the Kynd Butcher can be directly swapped out for meat in recipes.  

“I have customers come in and they say, ‘What would I do with the chicken that you have here, Amanda?’,” Lethlean says. 

“And they'd tell me, they'd make a salad, they'd make a chicken curry, they would do a stir fry. That’s exactly the same thing that you can do with our plant-based chicken. I don't want people changing their habits. We just want to really substitute one product for the other.” 

Lethlean does recommend reducing the cooking time for plant-based meat when compared to animal-based meat, to prevent overcooking. “One of the things with our plant-based products is they don't need to cook them for lengthy periods like we traditionally need to do with meat. “Most foods can even be cooked in a sandwich maker!” Lethlean says. 

If you’re trying plant-based meat for the first time, ease yourself into it says Lethlean. “When transitioning into a meat-free meal there is always a compromise and adjustment in relation to the texture and taste.” 

“I don't think that as a meat substitute, we were going to get the exact same experience. It's not necessarily going to taste the same as a [animal-protein] burger or sausage.”  

“But when we're using lots of herbs and spices in curries, in Mexican dishes, Asian dishes, or even Italian dishes, we can get very close to mimicking those meat experiences.”