Meat substitutes

Meat substitutes are products that are similar to meat in terms of flavor, texture or protein content; in some cases they also contain animal products. This encloses different types of vegetables (e.g. celeriac, turnips), mushrooms (oyster mushroom, parasol mushroom), cereals (green spelt, oat), legumes (black bean, chickpeas, lentils), products from Asian cuisine (tofu, seitan, tempeh, yuba), industrially produced meat analogue (quorn, textured soy protein, lupin products, products based on pea protein, vegetarian milk-based cutlet), as well as condiments and pastes (miso, soy sauce, Maggi seasoning sauce).[1] Cultured meat (see profile) can also be seen as a meat substitute product, however, unlike the above named products, it consists completely of (cultivated) meat.


Aim and innovation

Because of environmental, animal welfare and health reasons, meat substitutes can lead to a reduction of meat consumption, by making the transition to a vegetarian or vegan diet easier or enriching these diets and serving as protein source. However, people who generally eat meat can also reduce their meat consumption with meat substitutes (flexitarianism). Not all meat substitute products are innovative, some types of vegetables and mushrooms have traditionally been used as meat substitutes in soup kitchens or during crises (see also ›age of the niche‹). The products that originate from the Asian cuisine have also a long tradition. For these products the innovation lies rather within the marketing in Europe as well as the new flavouring and preparation in order to become more similar to meat. Cereals and legumes are also no innovation, but they are creatively used, for example as ›Black Bean Burger‹ or patties based on green spelt. The industrially produced meat substitutes are particularly innovative. New products are continuously developed, such as recently products based on lupin and pea protein.[2]


celeriac cutlet, tofu, tempeh, seitan, products based on lupin and pea protein, textured soy protein, vegetarian milk-based cutlet, quorn


processing (products), consumption (products)


(multinational) food businesses, producers, consumers

Development and current dynamics

The niche has grown considerably, especially in the last years.[5] All major supermarkets and discount stores provide a wide range of meat substitutes by now and various large meat producers have also vegetarian and vegan products in their product range. For example a fifth of the products of the sausage manufacturer Rügenwalder Mühle was already based on meat substitutes in 2016; the company calculates with 40% in 2020.[6] Therefore, meat substitutes can already be categorized as almost beyond a niche, even though this does not hold true for all products evenly. 


Sustainability potential


  • biodiversity 
  • soil
  • water 
  • climate 
  • air (indirect)
  • resource efficiency in production and consumption 
  • promotion of regional, closed nutrient cycles


  • increase of food security (indirect)


  • animal welfare

Risks / disadvantages

Some products are highly processed and are less healthy due to their ingredients. 



Meat substitutes are here understood as products that are similar to meat in terms of flavour, texture or protein content, but contain (for the most part) vegetable ingredients. This involves either traditional products that are marketed innovatively or new products that are developed innovatively. The niche experienced a strong growth particularly in the last years. Meat substitute products have numerous ecological advantages and therefore have a strong sustainability potential. However, the niche is developable in terms of economic and social sustainability goals. 


[1] Vegetarian only (2018): Fleischersatz: Was ist das und wofür brauchen wir es?. Web, 08.04.2020. www.vegetarian-only.de/fleischersatz-was-ist-das-und-wofuer-brauchen-wir-es/;
Klapp, A.-L. (2018): Fleischersatz: Die zehn besten veganen Fleischalternativen. ProVeg International. Web, 1.6.2018. vebu.de/essen-genuss/pflanzliche-alternativen/fleischersatz-die-besten-veganen-fleischalternativen/

[2] Schülein, A. (2011): Fleischersatz: ohne geht es auch. UGB-Forum 4/11. Web, 05.06.2018. www.ugb.de/lebensmittel-im-test/fleischersatz/druckansicht.pdf; Vegetarian only (2018); Klapp (2018).

[3] Vegetarian only (2018)

[4] Leitzmann, C. (2013): Fleischersatz – rein pflanzlich. UGB-Forum 6/13. Web, 05.06.2018. www.ugb.de/vollwert-ernaehrung/fleischersatz/druckansicht.pdf

[5] Dinkelmeyer, N. (2017): ‚Flucht in Scheinprodukte‘: Was hinter dem Veggie-Trend steckt. Welt. Web, 05.06.2018 www.welt.de/wirtschaft/article168040772/Flucht-in-Scheinprodukte-Was-hinter-dem-Veggie-Trend-steckt.html

[6] Klapp (2018); Grossarth, J. (2016): Ein Wurstfabrikant will weg vom Fleisch. FAZ. Web, 08.04.2020. www.faz.net/aktuell/wirtschaft/unternehmen/ruegenwalder-muehle-will-trend-zur-vegetarischen-wurst-ausbauen-14527466.html