By any other name: Beyond Meat grows beyond belief
Tuesday, July 30, 2019
We’ve had some form of vegetarian burger alternative with us since the early 1980s, when a vegetarian chain in Oregon introduced something it called the Gardenburger.
While vegetarians found these a welcome alternative to the traditional hamburger, these garden or veggie burgers were in most cases an acquired taste. Though often shaped like a burger, veggie burgers contained a variety of vegetarian ingredients that yielded different flavors, consistency and appearance — sometimes from one package to the next. There was never a concern these offerings would ever be confused with a Whopper or Big Mac.
In 2016, a Los Angeles-based company called Beyond Meat introduced the first plant-based burger to be sold in the meat section of a grocery store. Rather than include rice, tofu or similar traditional vegetarian ingredients, Beyond Beef burgers are made from pea protein, and they’re gluten- and soy-free. Not only do these products look more like a real hamburger, but they taste almost meat-like, too.
Between the company’s May IPO and the first week in July, Beyond Meat’s stock price soared more than 600%. The company’s revenue is expected to more than double this year, and the total market for plant-based, meat-like products is expected to shoot up to $5.2 billion by 2020.
Why the sudden surge in this product category?
The product now actually tastes and looks likes the real thing.
The old veggie burgers may have been tasty to a segment of the population, but none of them came close to the taste of actual meat. The new offerings are designed to both look and taste like real burgers.
Interest in climate change.
One of the factors associated with ongoing climate change is that cattle grazing on large tracts of land use large quantities of valuable resources. A single pound of beef requires 1,800 gallons of water, including irrigating the grains used in animal feed. A slice of bread, in comparison, uses only 11 gallons of water.
Awareness of how cattle farming impacts the environment is driving people to explore how they might replace traditional meat products with plant-based alternatives — for the sake of the planet.
The terminology has changed.
We are no longer talking about vegetarian or vegan foods, but about plant-based alternatives, including plant-based meat (which sounds like an oxymoron, but is exactly what Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger provide).
For many, the term vegetarian conjured up visions of strange foods that were not really equivalent to the animal products they were intended to replace. But plant-based has taken on a whole new connotation, especially when combined with the word meat.
Plant-based implies a product based mainly on plants, but it doesn’t have the strict dogma associated with vegetarianism. One can eat a plant-based lunch, then have meat or fish for dinner. There’s no doctrine to violate.
Plant-based is now construed to imply healthier choices, but in reality, there are highly processed, calorie-rich foods made from plants that are no healthier than chowing down on a beef burger.
Will this plant-based trend expand and continue, or is it just a fad? We don’t know yet whether consumers will adapt to this alternative long-term or if this will be just a flash in the pan, so to speak.
But the fact that all of the major fast-food chains are now serving either Beyond Meat or Impossible Burgers leads us to believe that plant-based offerings should be taken seriously.
There’s a lesson here for your business: Rather than continue to make incremental changes in a crowded or constricted category, try taking a leap forward with innovations so dramatic they change the category itself. Better yet, invent a new category altogether — one where you can offer a tasty offering that sizzles.
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