In recent years, plant-based meat has been taking the world by storm. New companies targeting flexitarians have sprouted up, and some traditional meat producers are hoping to cash in too.

Although it depends on the product, plant-based meat can be nutritionally similar to traditional meat. And Dalhousie University professor Sylvan Charlebois told CTV’s Your Morning there typically aren’t any major ingredient differences between them.

“There’s more fibre and frankly, less saturated fat. And those are really the main advantages that you see with a plant-based product,” the food distribution and policy professor explained.

He added there is more protein in plant-based meat compared to most traditional meat sources, which are still a big source of iron.

But don’t think that scarfing down greasy plant-based items, such as the Beyond Meat burgers in A&W, is necessarily healthy, if you eat it with fries and a soft drink.

When it comes to resources spent, plant-based meat requires fewer resources and less water to make. Beef is also considered taxing on the environment because of the resources it takes to grow crops to feed cows.

And unlike the raw ingredients in plant-based meat, cows – the main ingredient in burgers and steak -- also produce the greenhouse gas methane, mostly through burps.


Plant-based meat is made for meat-eaters

By his estimation, Charlebois said there are more than 3,000 grocery stores in Canada carrying plant-based meats right now. He explained the target market for companies, such as “Impossible Foods” and “Beyond Meat,” is not really for vegans per se.

“You won’t find them in some obscure place in the grocery store, you’ll find them at the meat counter,” he said. “And you know who doesn’t visit the meat counter? Vegans and vegetarians.”

He explained these companies are really vying for the so-called flexitarians -- defined as people who primarily stick to vegetarian diets but occasionally eat meat or fish.

“They want to eat meat but at the same time they want to reduce their consumption of animal protein,” he explained. “(They) are really the targeted market for most of these companies.”

For many consumers, the biggest question of all is what the products are made of: The burgers from Beyond Meat, for example, comprise pea proteins and canola oil, while Impossible Food’s patties are made of soy protein and coconut oil.


Plant-based meat doesn’t taste identical to traditional meat yet

Although some consumers can’t taste any difference between traditional meat and some plant-based meats, there are plenty who can.

And Charlebois acknowledged that plant-based products still have a ways to go -- especially if the goal is to replace traditional meat, such as beef and chicken.

“Consumers are attracted to these good products and they’re intrigued and curious but they are not perfect products,” he said. “They don’t taste (the same), the texture is not the same, if you put them on the grill they don’t behave the same way as animal proteins.”

More identical-tasting meat could be on the horizon, Charlebois said.

Investors seem to be betting big on that future. Beyond Meat -- which will be in Canadian stores by the summer and which has partnered with the fast-food chain A&W -- recently went public and their stock price skyrocketed by nearly 160 per cent.

But outside of these companies focusing exclusively on making plant-based meat, Charlebois said traditional meat producers are also investing and hoping to incorporate the plant-based products too.

Maple Leaf Foods is one such longstanding meat-industry giant. Charloebois said it is starting to see itself as not solely just an animal-protein company.

“That’s why they’re planning on building a $300-million plant in Indiana to manufacture these plant-based products,” Charlebois said, adding several other companies are scaling up their efforts in regards to plant-based meat.


Traditional meat companies are protective over the word 'meat'

The meat-based products are still more expensive than most forms of traditional meat. That’s due to the expensive solutions used to help cells grow, which are in limited supply because they’re widely used in medical therapy.

Although it’ll be a while before mainstream companies crack the code to cut down on costs, meat-based producers aren’t taking their new competition sitting down.

In Canada, the Quebec Cattle Producers Federation recently filed a complaint with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency against Beyond Meat over their use of the term “plant-based meat” in recent tweets and promotional material.