If you go to the supermarket looking for vegan replacements for meat, cheese or spreads, you’re liable to end up wandering around searching for a separate section of the store allocated for such dishes. That reality of food-sorting keeps many omnivores from trying meat-free options. All that’s about to change, as one brand of vegan burger that mimics even the blood and sizzle of real beef takes a place alongside real burgers in the meat section of 280 Safeway supermarkets in California, Hawaii, and Nevada, Bloomberg reports.
It’s a place no veggie burger has been before. And the potential impact on beef sales can’t be ignored.
Backed by an unlikely group of investors including Bill Gates, General Mills Inc. and Tyson Foods Inc., Beyond Meat—made famous for their “Beyond Burger” patties—came out last year, but was only available at Whole Foods and several restaurants. Beyond Meat’s other offerings, meanwhile, have been adopted at 11,000 stores including Walmart and Target, as well as the dining halls of Yale University. Distributing the vegan patties at Safeway will inevitably blow the realistic-yet-vegan burger market wide open. And the patties’ placement alongside real ground beef is sure to help sales with meat-eaters.
“It’s a really important step in terms of reframing how we think about meat,” Ethan Brown, Beyond Meat’s 45-year-old CEO, told Bloomberg. “We assume that an animal has to be used for meat, and that’s just false.”
Beyond Meat was created in 2009. Its first offering was a faux chicken, garnering the attention of Gates and General Mills’ venture arm 301 Inc. Once the Beyond Burger came out last year, even Tyson Foods, the largest meat producer in the United States, got on board with a 5 percent stake in Beyond Meat. The fake beef—with all the sizzles and “blood” of the real thing”—was created with the help of Stanford University and Caltech scientists, among others. It took three years to make and sold out within a few days of hitting shelves at the Boulder, Colo. Whole Foods.
The success was so staggering, in fact, that Beyond Meat even got backing from none other than Don Thompson, McDonald’s Corp.’s former CEO.
The Beyond Burger is gluten-, soy-, and animal-free, drawing its strength from pea protein, coconut oil, and beet juice, for color. But that’s not the only surprising fact about the makeup of these burgers, which are totally antibiotic-, hormone-, and GMO-free, according to the company website. Stacked up ounce-for-ounce with animal-based beef, the Beyond Burger has 20 grams of protein to beef’s 19, 25 percent of your recommended daily dose of iron to beef’s 12 percent, 5 grams of saturated fat to beef's 9, and 22 grams of fat to beef’s 23.
You can get two Beyond Burger patties for $5.99 retail, making the price disparity the biggest issue for now. Brown told Bloomberg he expects to be selling Beyond Burgers for cheaper than beef burgers within five years. That, he says, is when “things will really get interesting.”
Next step: changing the meat section of supermarkets to the “protein aisle.”