Plant-Based Meat Is Officially Mainstream
Part of the mission statement of Impossible Foods — the plant-based brand behind the Impossible Burger — says the company believes in "making meat using plants, so that we never have to use animals again." It's a grandiose idea with an implication that isn't readily apparent. The goal of humans never using animals again isn't something that can be accomplished alone. To achieve it, Impossible Foods essentially needs other companies to get on board. And it's happening. A laundry list of big names is launching their own plant-based products. It's a lot of competition; it also might be a huge success.
The plant-based space is getting so crowded it's practically impossible to keep up. This week alone, Kroger announced its own in-house Simple Truth Plant Based products that "will include fresh meatless burger patties and grinds as well as plant-based cookie dough, pasta sauces, sausages, deli slices, dips and other items." Hormel Foods launched a new Happy Little Plants line led by a ground plant-based protein alternative. And Kellogg said it plans to significantly expand its existing MorningStar Farms vegetarian brand under the name Incogmeato with new items like its first ready-to-cook plant-based burger. (Not to mention the fact that Tyson invested in a plant-based shrimp company this week, too!) Last month, KFC even tested a Beyond Meat fried chicken, a plant-based bellwether if there ever was one.
Yes, Boca Burgers and Tofurky have been around for decades, but the current movement can be traced back to two brands: Beyond Meat, founded in 2009, and Impossible Foods, founded in 2011. It's easy to focus on these companies products — specifically, flagship plant-based burgers that taste more like actual meat — but what really sets these companies apart isn't what they make, but how they sell it. Whereas previous plant-based brands tended to target vegetarians, Beyond and Impossible set out to sell plant-based products to the masses, sliding their patties onto White Castle and Burger King menus, all while using growing concerns about climate change and other issues as the backbone of their pitch. Beyond Meat's mission specifically cites "human health, climate change, constraints on natural resources and animal welfare."
This dual approach of better burgers with broader appeal intentionally cracked open a niche market to begin selling plant-based products to almost everyone (besides maybe Arby's fans). Of course, when you throw open the floodgates the water is going to pour through — which is exactly what's happening now. According to the Plant Based Foods Association, sales of plant-based foods are up 11 percent over the past year, with the retail market now worth $4.5 billion. Why would food giants like Nestle — which is also planning to launch a plant-based burger — let that market go?
But at the same time, making plant-based products mainstream has been part of Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger's plan all along. "Impossible Foods has a singular focus: to make uncompromisingly delicious and nutritious meat, dairy and fish directly from plants, empowering consumers to help halt climate change, spare land for biodiversity, and keep fresh water available for natural habitats to thrive with every burger consumed," Impossible Foods CEO Pat Brown said in a statement to Food & Wine. "Because our mission is urgent, we welcome any and all players providing plant-based options to the market."
Now the real battle begins: Offering plant-based products that resonate with consumers (and their wallets). Beyond and Impossible have always maintained they had a huge leg up in that department as well. If that's the case, now should be their time to shine.