Beyond Meat's Massive New Lab Sounds Like Something Out of a Sci-Fi Novel

It includes gizmos called "E-tongues."

Beyond Meat Burger
Photo: Courtesy of Beyond Meat

In many ways, fake meat is the new real meat. Not to say there isn't still excitement around words like "Kobe" and "Wagyu," but a new generation is just as likely to keep an eye out for "Beyond" and "Impossible," the two biggest names in America's escalating plant-based meat battle. Adding to the intrigue, yesterday, Beyond Meat opened the doors to a brand new "innovation center," a massive facility seven times larger than their previous home base, built with what Beyond states is "a single goal" to "perfectly build meat directly from plants."

In a name that tips its hat both to the new facility's El Segundo location and the company's war on meat, Beyond Burger has labeled the work being done at this new 26,000-square-foot research and development center the "Manhattan Beach Project." Inside, nearly 100 employees—including "scientists, engineers, food technologists, chefs and managers"—work in eight distinct labs. "At Beyond Meat, we strive to understand meat at new levels, and then rebuild it using amino acids, lipids and minerals from plants," CEO and Founder Ethan Brown explained. "What the animal has done throughout history—organize plant material in the form of muscle or meat—we believe we can do more efficiently to the benefit of human health, the environment, and animal welfare."

As Fast Company recently discovered during an exclusive tour, that calls for all sorts of gizmos including an "E-tongue" that squishes test Beyond Burger patties to determine chewiness, juiciness, and elasticity and an "E-nose" able to isolate over 1,000 molecules that contribute to smell and taste. Once those electronic gadgets have done their job, real life tasting is done in a "sensory lab" specially constructed to facilitate blind-tastings by blocking out all other distractions like noise and smells.

If Beyond Meat's past is an indicator of its future, the sky would seem to be the limit for a company that went from a small startup nine years ago, to a business that has sold 25 million burgers since their 2016 introduction and has raised $72 million in funding. Believers include chains like TGI Fridays, who made headlines when it added the burger in January, and grocers like Whole Foods and Amazon. Though to hear Brown say it, that's just the beginning: Not long after TGI Fridays' announcement, the CEO said he had even larger chains like McDonald's in his sights. Now, the brand seems to have the facilities to help bring those kinds of dreams closer to reality.

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