In recent weeks it was announced that the Beyond Burger would be making its way into almost 500 branches of TGI Fridays across the United States.
A burger in a diner – nothing special about that, right?
Turns out it is a pretty big deal: the Beyond Burger is made entirely from plants. But it’s not your average veggie burger – it’s part of a new generation of high tech foods engineered by entrepreneurs.
These innovators want to move away from traditional animal agriculture for a number of reasons – environmental sustainability, ethics, and human health to list three.
Ethan Brown is the founder of Beyond Meat, the company that makes the plant-based patty. He has huge plans to bridge the gap between mainstream and alternative protein sources.
He says: “From the beginning and right up to today, the idea has been that we want to be part of the mainstream discussion in terms of protein at the centre of the plate.
“We don’t want to be a niche product.
“We want to get out of the meat alternative case where almost no mainstream consumer shops.”
So far Brown is achieving this goal; the Beyond Burger can be found in around 4,300 retailers across the States as well as hundreds of restaurants.
How is this product succeeding where veggie burgers of the past have failed?
There are several reasons – including taste, marketing, and the tech.
John Ciraulo is Senior Vice President of Fresh Foods for California-based store Stater Bros. He says: “Our Certified Meat Cutters know meat, and we were amazed when we tried the Beyond Burger.
“There is no other plant-based product out there that delivers on the meat-eating experience like the Beyond Burger does.”
When it comes to marketing the product, being placed in the meat case – as opposed to in the alternative or ‘free from’ section – has been part of the game plan from the beginning. Brown felt the burger would be less likely to succeed if it was hidden away as a ‘speciality item’.
His product was rejected by a number of supermarket buyers who had been interested – until Brown insisted the burger was sold alongside traditional meat.
It wasn’t until Whole Foods took the product on that other retailers followed – selling in volumes that reportedly surprised bosses at Beyond Meat.
How was Whole Foods convinced to place this product alongside meat from animals?
The success comes from the basic company idea ‘that you can create a piece of meat directly from plants’.
“That’s the core of who we are as a company,” adds Brown.
“If you look at the composition of meat it actually becomes pretty clear. It’s fat, it’s protein, and it’s water. Amino acids, lipids – a very small amount of carbohydrates, almost none, and trace minerals.
“All those things can be sourced outside the animal, and they can be placed within the same architecture that they are within animal muscle. You can put a chicken breast into an MRI [scanner] and begin to understand its structure.
“The days you had to use an animal to create a piece of meat are rapidly diminishing.
“With this product we got close enough to animal protein to get into the meat cases – our job now is to make it better, so we can continue to expand our offering.”