Artificial meat: The next big thing?

It's strange that in an era that prizes things like natural and organic foods that more and more food is courtesy of labs and factories?

Chuck Jolley

September 15, 2019

6 Min Read
Beyond Meat

For those few foolish folk who still sneer at the various meat analogs out there, who think the 'next big thing' is just another fairy tale fraud -- here's your wake up call. Take a deep breath, open your eyes, take a long and well-earned stretch, put on your robe and slippers; it's time to smell the fresh coffee a 'brewin.'

Can't smell it? That's because the likes of Cargill, ConAgra, Hormel and Tyson got up way before you did and made a hearty breakfast of Conagra's Egg Beaters Original, Tofurky Smoky Maple Bacon, Pero Natural Coffee Substitute with a dash of Silk Organic Almondmilk sweetened with Splenda and a side of gluten-free toast. They consumed the whole faux food thing while you were sleeping through that shrill Amazon-inspired Alexa alarm.

To catch you up on things, Cargill has just invested an additional $75 million in pea protein (PP) producer PURIS, which will allow that company to more than double its production. PURIS is the largest North American producer of PP, the hot new ingredient used in the industrial production of plant-based real food alternatives by manufacturers such as Daiya, Gardein, Beyond Meat, Ripple Foods and Just Mayo. PPs are used in non-dairy alternatives to real cheese and yogurt, too.

PURIS president Tyler Lorenzen said, "Pea protein offers a non-GMO, certified organic, allergen-friendly option that checks all the boxes consumers are looking for in label-friendly products. It’s also compatible with vegetarian and vegan lifestyles." likes the stuff, claiming it is "typically used to increase the protein content of smoothies and shakes and is a great fit for almost any diet since it's naturally vegan and hypoallergenic, is a high-quality protein and a great source of iron. It can aid muscle growth, weight loss and heart health."

Plant-based meat products definitely are a fast food fad. Subway is introducing plant-based meatballs from Beyond Meat to create the Beyond Meatball Marinara Sub. Let's add previously announced menu items like White Castle’s Impossible Slider, Carl’s Jr.’s Beyond Famous Star, The Cheesecake Factory’s Impossible Burger, Del Taco’s Beyond Meat tacos and KFC’s Beyond Chicken.

So who else is in? Seems like everybody. If a company had been in real meat last week, they're in faux meat today. Let's start with Beyond Meat. Early investors were Bill Gates, the Humane Society of the United States and Tyson. Beyond Meat says its product is sold all over the world and can be found in Tesco, Tim Horton's, A&W and Dunkin' Donuts. Early this year, Wall Street said the company was worth approximately $11.7 billion but a recent 37% drop in stock price has cut into that value.

Beyond Meat management is bold, optimistic and ambitious group, though. They looked at the $140 billion projection for imitation meat products and said, "Hold my near beer." Their self-professed goal is the entire $270 billion U.S. meat industry, using the market share plant-based milks have captured from dairy milk as a starting point. In addition to a major share of the analog market, Beyond Meat suggests it could capture 13% or $35 billion of the traditional (real) meat market.

Who else is playing with plants? Tyson Foods dumped its early stake in Beyond Meat to manufacture its own plant-based products. Raised & Rooted is its product line, which includes vegan meat alternatives as well as ones that blend meat and plant-based protein.

Tyson's venture capital arm is trying the step ahead of the hot fake meat and poultry curve with an investment in New Wave Foods, a plant-based shrimp company whose ingredient list includes seaweed and soy protein. Tyson also is an investor in Memphis Meats.

MorningStar Farms, an old school brand owned by Kellogg, faced with playing catch up in an arena it helped pioneer, has expanded its existing plant-based portfolio with the introduction of the unfortunately named Incogmeato by MorningStar Farms. The marketing wizards at the big red K says Incogmeato is a "next-gen product line" that includes a "ready-to-cook plant-based burger" and fully prepared plant-based "Chik'n" tenders and nuggets.

Who was the real killer behind Beyond Meat's stock taking that 37% nose dive this summer? Big food (really big -- more than $93 billion U.S. last year) Nestle, the international processed food king pin, announced it's preparing to launch its own veggie burger in the U.S. Their Sweet Earth brand has a major presence in Europe and the company has one of the most impressive distribution systems in North America. Even more frightening for American upstarts, its Incredible Burger is available at McDonald's in Germany. If burger giant decides to get into a direct sales battle with Burger King's Impossible Whopper with an Incredible quarter pounder, its sheer volume will overwhelm the Beyond Meat product.

Hormel Foods is the not-surprising new player in this hot air balloon of a market. The hot dog champ launched its own line of plant-based meat alternatives just a few days ago. Called Happy Little Plants, it includes a ground plant-based protein alternative. The company, though, has been there, done that, though, with a long history of selling plant-based pizza topping items and an almost there thing called the Applegate Blend Burger, which combines real meat with vegan-friendly mushrooms.

And now, looming on the horizon and casting a dark and fearsome Godzilla-like shadow over the supermarket meat case are the cell-based alternatives. Scrape a cow, drop the cells in a Petrie dish and you're in business with real meat, more or less, lab-grown from real animals. Right now, the stuff is too pricey to be a serious contender but that will end too soon for a cattleman's comfort. If plant-based meat analogs check too many boxes -- Multiple ingredients? Check. Unpronounceable ingredients? Check. High price points? Check - cell-based products can uncheck each of those boxes.

For those who don't know, The Impossible Burger contains water, soy protein concentrate, coconut oil, sunflower oil, natural flavors, 2% or less of: Potato protein, methylcellulose, yeast extract, cultured dextrose, food starch modified, soy leghemoglobin, salt, soy protein isolate, mixed tocopherols (vitamin E), zinc gluconate, thiamine hydrochloride (vitamin B1), sodium ascorbate (vitamin C), niacin, pyridoxine hydrochloride (vitamin B6), riboflavin (vitamin B2), vitamin B12.
The Beyond Burger contains water, PP isolate, expeller-pressed canola oil, refined coconut oil, contains 2% or less of the following: cellulose from bamboo, methylcellulose, potato starch, natural flavor, maltodextrin, yeast extract, salt, sunflower oil, vegetable glycerin, dried yeast, gum arabic, citrus extract (to protect quality), ascorbic acid (to maintain color), beet juice extract (for color), acetic acid, succinic acid, modified food starch, annatto (for color).

It's strange, don't you think, that in an era that prizes things like natural and organic foods, the freshness of farm-to-market distribution and homey phrases like "Don't eat anything your great-great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food" that more and more of our food is brought to you courtesy of labs and factories?

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