Proponents of alternatives to traditional meat often argue the resources necessary for production and processing as reasons to develop and advocate new ideologies and methods. One method of lessening the impact of meat production on natural resources is vegetarianism. Another more scientifically driven method is meat created in a lab rather than from raised and slaughtered animals, but actual meat nonetheless.
San Francisco-based Impossible Foods has gone the vegetarian route by creating the Impossible Burger. Another Bay Area company, Memphis Meats, chose the more futuristic approach of growing real meat, but in a lab from harvested animal cells. Both address the issue of natural resource supply, and other issues as well, but take different approaches.
A company such as Impossible Foods might attract vegetarians and those who prefer traditional meat with its realistic meat flavor, texture, aroma and cooking quality and characteristics, but choose a vegetable-based diet due to the environmental impact. Memphis Meats is meat. Those who base their eating on moral issues concerning the consumption and treatment of animals used for food might run into confusion because no animals are birthed, raised, fed, watered or slaughtered to create the meat.
Impossible Foods constructs its flagship Impossible Burger entirely from plants and the key ingredient, soy leghemoglobin (heme), gives the product its meat-like qualities. It’s what Impossible Foods refers to as the “magic ingredient.” Apparently that magic ingredient does the trick, as many high-end restaurants and their chefs have begun to serve the Impossible Burger.
“We serve in top restaurants because we can,” says Rachel Konrad, chief communications officer at Impossible Foods. “Impossible Burger is the only plant-based meat that is served in acclaimed restaurants owned by award-winning chefs, including David Chang, Traci Des Jardins, Chris Cosentino, Chris Shepherd, Brad Farmerie, Michael Symon and others. These chefs would only serve food that’s delicious, and they put their significant star power behind the product as well.”
Konrad goes on to say starting off with the product exclusively in restaurants, “establishes your reputation and gets as much traction as possible,” due to half of the total beef in the US market being purchased in restaurants, and 70 percent of that being served as burgers. “Starting with a burger served in American restaurants is a great way to do it,” she adds.
“The plant contains off-the-shelf equipment that you would see in many food manufacturing facilities, from industrial-sized mixers to conveyor belts and packaging equipment,” she says. Also like traditional food manufacturing facilities, Impossible Foods takes safety seriously.
“Safety is always our No. 1 priority and that includes the safety of our plant and manufacturing processes. We are currently ramping up our first large-scale manufacturing facility, in Oakland, California,” Konrad says. “We start without slaughterhouse contaminants because the product contains no animals -- and then we employ state-of-the-art manufacturing and safety processes. In fact, we just passed our first external, accredited Quality and Food Safety audit (required by many customers and future customers) with a 98 percent score.”
Another plant-based burger producer, El Segundo, California-based Beyond Meat, has seen substantial growth with its Beyond Burger product in recent months. The company’s burgers are available at more than 11,000 retail stores in the US. Its success even got the attention of Tyson Foods Inc., Springdale, Arkansas, which invested in a 5 percent ownership stake of the company in the fall of 2016. Monica McGurk, Tyson’s vice president of strategy and new ventures and president of foodservice said, “We’re enthusiastic about this investment, which gives us exposure to a fast-growing segment of the protein market. It meets our desire to offer consumers choices and to consider how we can serve an ever-growing and diverse global population, while remaining focused on our core prepared foods and animal protein businesses.”
In September of this year, food distributor Sysco chose Beyond Burger as part of its Cutting Edge Solutions program. Since that time, over 2,000 foodservice outlets have added the Beyond Burger to their menus. Foodservice outlets now offering the product include restaurants, hotels, college campuses and professional sports teams’ training camps.
David Friedman, founder and CEO of Epic Burger in Chicago and existing Beyond Meat partner talked about his business growth. “In the first three months, we’ve sold more than 20,000 Beyond Burgers which equates to about 10 percent of burger/sandwich sales and is exceeding our sales expectations. Those numbers continue to grow each week.”
That growth on an individual level mirrors the growth of the plant-based burger category overall.