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Meat-loving Brazil Also Looks for Plant-Based Foods

2019-6-27

Brazilians generally love to eat beef. The country is known for its all-you-can-eat steak restaurants. It is a leader in meatpacking. In fact, there are more cows than people in Brazil.

But now, Brazilian companies like JBS – the world’s largest beef producer – are looking to cash in on the growing popularity of plant-based meat substitutes. It is a growing food market for people who want to eat less meat, in part because production of meat is often harmful to the environment.

So-called “plant-based meats” usually use a mix of protein from soybeans or peas. They are mixed together with mushrooms or vegetables such as beets. The aim is to make the look, taste and feel similar to animal products.

Beyond Meat Inc and Impossible Foods are fast-growing companies selling plant-based foods internationally.

But Brazil will not be an easy market for plant-based foods to take over. The average Brazilian eats about 42 kilograms of meat a year. That is second only to the 53 kilograms eaten by their neighbors in Argentina, according to the market research company Athenagro.

FILE: Workers carry salted meat at a plant of JBS S.A, the world's largest beef producer, in Santana de Parnaiba
FILE: Workers carry salted meat at a plant of JBS S.A, the world's largest beef producer, in Santana de Parnaiba

Brazil has about 215 million cows being raised for meat. The country has a population of 210 million.

A recent public opinion study by the Braizilian Vegetarian Society found that 30 million Brazilians consider themselves vegetarians – or people who do not eat meat. Seven million of those people say they are vegans. This means they give up all animal products, including cheese, milk and eggs.

There is also a growing number of “flexitarians” in Brazil. These are people who want to reduce, but not totally cut out, the amount of meat they eat.

A growing number of new products are showing up in supermarkets across the country -- from vegetable-based sausages and hot dogs to pea-based “chicken breasts”-- which have no chicken in them at all.

Seara is part of the JBS company. It has started producing a plant-based “hamburger.” Its marketing director, Jose Cirilo, says the company is looking for opportunities.

Along with other newcomers to the field, Seara is competing with some local vegetarian producers. These include Superbom, a food processor with ties to the country’s Adventist Church. The Adventist Church supports a vegetarian diet as part of a healthful life. Superbom has reported an increase in demand for its vegetarian alternatives.

“Our client base today is much bigger outside of the church,” said Superbom’s marketing director, David Oliveira. He estimates that demand for meat substitutes in Brazil is growing by 30 percent each year.

Chicken producer BRF is also looking to return to the vegetarian market. It stopped making non-meat products in 2010.

“It's a market that is here to stay,” said BRF’s Fabio Baganara. He said new inventions have helped plant-based products to be closer to the qualities of animal meat.

I’m Anne Ball.

Alberto Alerigi wrote this story for Reuters News Agency. Anne Ball adapted it for VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

Do you eat beef, or any meat? Are you a vegan? Let us know what you think of this story. Write to us in the comments section below.

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Words in This Story

steak – n. a thick, flat piece of meat and especially beef

cash in – phrasal v. to obtain money for (something that you own)

soybean – n. the bean of an Asian plant that contains a large amount of protein and that is used as a food

pea – n. a small, round, green seed that is eaten as a vegetable and that is formed in a seed case (called a pod) of a climbing plant

mushroom n. a fungus that is shaped like an umbrella, especially one that can be eaten

average - adj. ordinary or usual

opportunity - n. a situation in which something can be done

alternative - n. something that can be chosen instead of something else : a choice or option

client – n. a person who pays a professional person or organization for services