Meatless Meat Is On The Rise
Until very recently, plant-based ‘meats’ were most well known as tofu burgers or tofu dogs you could find in the grocery store. Most brands had a pre-cooked appearance, a distinct ‘fake meat taste’, and were purchased almost exclusively by people with dietary restrictions or people aiming for a healthier lifestyle.
With more and more food-service companies looking to add vegetarian options to their menu, though, the world of meat-alternatives is evolving. A few companies are capitalizing on this evolution of vegetarian and vegan foods and are gaining popularity quickly.
Beyond Meat, a California-based company founded back in 2009, is one of the most notable names in this trending change. In addition to offering pre-formed burger patties and sausages, Beyond Meat has partnered with fast-food chains like Del Taco, Carl’s Jr, and most notably, A&W Canada. The company arguably gained the most notoriety with this partnership as the Beyond Meat Burger quickly sold out across Canada, leaving curious customers having to wait to get a taste. This partnership also introduced the Beyond Meat Sausage & Egger, which is the very first meat-alternative breakfast item to be offered in a large chain. The company has recently become publicly traded and had an astounding start, surging up to an evaluation as high as $3.5 billion in just a few days.
The plant-based protein company prides itself on their soy free, gluten free, non-GMO product that is made with pea protein, canola and coconut oil, and water, with trace amount of other ingredients. When touring their factory, though, celebrity chef Alton Brown discovered that Beyond Meat is very secretive of their proprietary process used to create their product. The FAQ on their website simply describes it as a system that “applies heating, cooling, and pressure to align plant-proteins in the same fibrous structures that you’d find in animal proteins”.
Beyond Meat stresses that their product is not a ‘veggie burger’ per se, but is a burger that just happens to be made from plants. Many consumers of their products have commented that the Beyond Meat burgers actually taste like regular hamburgers, something key to their popularity.
Competing with Beyond Meat is Impossible Foods, another California-based company vying to be the go-to meat substitute for vegetarians and vegans. While not currently as well-known as Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods is gradually gaining popularity with their own fast-food partnerships. Hundreds of smaller chains across America offer their version of the “Impossible Burger”, all of which can be located through the Impossible Foods website.
The most notable creation of these partnerships is the Impossible Whopper, created through a deal between Impossible Foods and Burger King. Previously, the Impossible Whopper could only be found in St. Louis, Missouri, where a trial run was being tested. Due to the popularity of the Impossible Whopper, Burger King has announced that it will be available in over 7300 locations nation-wide by the end of 2019. Impossible Foods has warned their other partners of a product shortage, though, due to the incredible demand Burger King has placed on the resources of the company.
While this deal sounds incredibly promising, Impossible Foods has a bit of a challenge when it comes to convincing customers to buy their product. While Beyond Meat touts being soy free, gluten free, and non-GMO, Impossible Foods can only claim to be gluten-free.
Impossible Foods is very transparent about the process they use to make the most current iteration of their Impossible Burgers. The company capitalizes on the use of heme, the substance that gives meat its distinct meaty flavour, which they procure through a plant-based process. Leghemoglobin, a plant variant of the the hemoglobin found in blood which carries heme, can be found in the roots of soy plants. To create a more abundant source, though, Impossible Foods implants the gene to create leghemoglobin in yeast, similar to the yeast used in alcohol fermentation, which then ferments and reproduces. The leghemoglobin (and heme) is then isolated from the yeast and added to the Impossible Burger’s soy, potato, sunflower and coconut oil-based recipe to create its meaty taste.
The GMO approach Impossible Foods uses is in the interest of their greater pursuit, though. Both Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, as well as nearly every other modern plant-based protein manufacturer, aim to find a sustainable method of reducing the amount of red meat processed in the world.
On the websites of both companies, a ‘mission’ page can be found outlining the drawbacks of relying on animals as a food source. Beyond Meat’s focus includes a concern for human health, specifically the cholesterol attributed to red meat consumption, and a concern for the well being of animals. Meanwhile, Impossible Foods’ GMO approach addresses the need to eliminate degenerative agricultural practices used in harvesting plants, which damage and dry out the land used.
The sole focus of both Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, though, is to reduce the environmental impact created by the manufacturing of beef and, eventually, pork, chicken, and every other animal-sourced product. The carbon emissions created in America through animal agriculture is on par with the emissions of every method of transportation in the nation. In addition to this, animal agriculture consumes vast amounts of fresh water and requires more and more land to keep up with demand.
The method of attaining these goals is another commonality between the rival companies; creating a product that attracts consumers of animal-based meats as well as vegetarians and vegans. Rather than create a substitute, Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat are trying to create a replacement that vegetarians, vegans, and meat-eaters can enjoy. If things go well, it won’t be long before every fast-food chain offers Beyond Meat or Impossible options to their menu.