Plant-based burger just another protein option, says Beyond Meat: ‘All of a sudden, the meat aisle becomes the protein aisle’

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The Beyond Burger – the first refrigerated plant-based patty to sit in the meat counter – will move into all Whole Foods regions by the end of the year, while brand owner Beyond Meat is also in talks with foodservice chains interested in testing or launching the product next year, according to executive chairman Seth Goldman.

The progress of the ready-to-cook pea-protein-based patty, which is shipped frozen but merchandised in stores’ refrigerators, is being watched carefully by trend-watchers and analysts alike, who are keen to see if plant-based burgers can really move from the niche to the mainstream.

Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA at our Food Vision USA conference in Chicago earlier this month, Goldman said that if plant-based burgers become a permanent fixture in the meat case, “all of a sudden, the meat aisle becomes the protein aisle. There’s cow protein, chicken protein and plant protein. It’s a continuum of options.”

He added: “We have to have products that can compete in the meat section because that is where most families buy their protein.

"The sales lift when we move to the meat section is dramatic. Vegetarians don’t go to the meat section, so the fact that it’s selling so well in the meat section suggests we’re attracting a new audience [ie. meat eaters].

“I remember Stephen Colbert talking about veggie burgers being bar coasters soaked in MSG, so how do we change perceptions of a plant based burger into something delicious and juicy?”

Foodservice potential

Asked about opportunities in foodservice, Goldman said that vegetarian restaurant chain Veggie Grill is launching the Beyond Burger, and that Beyond Meat is also in talks with other foodservice chains interested in testing or launching the product next year.

“Often the veggie burger is a consolation prize, so being able to offer something that tastes delicious and sizzles and has the juicy rich taste of an animal burger is an attractive option for restaurants," he added.

The size of the prize?

So what’s the size of the plant-based ‘meat’ prize?

According to Goldman: “Plant-based dairy is about 14% of the overall dairy category. The plant-based meat category is less than 1% of the $197bn meat category, so if you can get to 14% of that, it’s a big opportunity.”

Rapid growth

Co-founded by Ethan Brown and Brent Taylor in 2009, Beyond Meat launched its first products on the national stage in 2013, and is now in 11,000+ stores including Publix, HEB, Target, and Whole Foods, with products including single-serve meals, Beast burgers and sliders (made from non-GMO pea protein); Beyond Chicken strips, tenders and poppers (made from non-GMO soy and pea protein); and Beyond Beef crumbles and meatballs (made with non-GMO pea protein).

Based in El Segundo, California, with a manufacturing facility in Columbia, Missouri, Beyond Meat has the license to use a patented process to make meat-replicas developed by Fu-Hung Hsieh and Harold Huff at the University of Missouri, and is on a mission “to create mass-market solutions that perfectly replace animal protein with plant protein.”

High-profile backers

To date, Beyond Meat has secured financial backing from high-profile investors including Tyson Foods (which has a 5% stake), General Mills’ 301 Inc venture arm, Seth Goldman, Bill Gates, VC legend Kleiner-Perkins Caulfield & Byers (which backed Amazon and Google - before everyone else did), The Obvious Corporation (an investment vehicle created by the founders of Twitter), and the Humane Society of the United States.

The investment from Tyson Foods will provide additional capital to help the company expand its product portfolio and distribution, says Beyond Meat, which "will remain an independent, privately held company led by founder and CEO Ethan Brown."

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