September 18, 2020

Burger Beyond Expectations

Move aside hamburgers, there’s a new patty in town. The latest veggie burgers on the market are here and they are made to taste like meat. A trait that Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger, two of the largest producers of the plant-based products, are hoping will draw vegan and meat-eating consumers alike.

The meat-free alternative was developed in a laboratory as a means to create food with a low carbon footprint while still satiating carnivorous desires. The “secret” ingredient that makes the product taste like traditional beef is something called heme, an iron-containing compound that forms hemoglobin.

Some of the products are even made to “bleed” and can be cooked to order, leaving a hint of pink juice which is derived from the root of the soybean plant. The plants that make up these burgers are pea, soy, rice, potato, coconut and other natural flavors such as beet and apple. Every year in the U.S. over 9 billion animals are raised and slaughtered on factory farms to feed Earth’s ever-growing population. Factory farms, particularly those that raise cattle, contribute to a significant proportion of global greenhouse gas emissions. The new meatless alternatives are said to have a carbon footprint of almost 90 percent smaller, according to an analysis released by ImpossibleBurger. It also uses 87 percent less water and 96 percent less land to produce a meatless burger than it does to produce a beef patty. 

NCC geography professor Anita Forrester and philosophy professor Tara Zrinsky have both tried the meat alternative products. 

“The goal is to get people to eat less meat,” Forrester said. “And if it gets even a few people to try it then I think that it’s a great product. My older son who loves meat said that this is a game-changer.”

Zrinsky says, “I think it’s good with sauce or any Mexican dish, with the right seasoning it can pass. But it’s really expensive. That is a major deterrent. It’s more expensive than beef.” 

The cost is higher even in fast-food chains such as Burger King where the Impossible Whopper costs $3 more than the traditional beef Whopper. The market is growing rapidly despite the cost. A Euromonitor projection estimates that by 2023, the meat substitute market value will reach $2.5 billion. When Beyond Meat first began marketing to upscale restaurants, stock values were $25 per share. Now that the company has made deals with fast-food giants such as Burger King, Subway and KFC, their stock is now $169 per share. 

The longevity of these products is what retailers are working to sustain. The products will need more than a niche market to compete and vegetarian consumers in the U.S. account for only about 3 percent of the population. Will consumers still demand this product after their initial curiosity fades? Time will tell.

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