Picture a corporate cafeteria. One day, the food director decides to add a vegan sausage option to the menu, just to see how it’ll sell. What percentage of people do you think would opt for the vegan sausages over pork?

That’s the question that Better Meat Co.’s co-founder and COO Joanna Bromley asked onstage at the Good Food Conference yesterday as she pitched her company before an audience of the future meat-curious. According to her research, a safe bet is that five percent of people would go for vegan sausages. Maybe ten.

Better Meat Co. hopes to increase the number of people eating plants over meat — knowingly or unknowingly — by creating a plant-based protein that can be blended seamlessly into processed meats. Their wheat protein product can replace 30% of the meat in processed foods, such as sausages and dumplings, creating an end result that’s healthier and more sustainable — but tastes indistinguishable from the real thing. “The idea is that you can’t see or taste the difference,” Bromley told me in an interview.

Founded in early 2018, the Sacramento-based startup’s first product is specifically suited to blend with pork, but Bromley said that they’re currently working to develop blending agents for other meats, too.

Others are also pushing the blended burger agenda by adding mushrooms into their ground chuck. Sonic recently launched a blended burger which contains 25% mushrooms, playing up the health and taste angle. High-end chefs like Richard Blais (see him at the Smart Kitchen Summit this October!) have also jumped on the plant-blended burger bandwagon. And the James Beard Foundation recently launched the Blended Burger Project, challenging top chefs to create burgers partially made with mushrooms. According to Bromley, however, the problem is twofold: mushrooms cost more than meat and don’t contain the same amount of protein.

Better Meat Co.’s plant-based alternative, on the other hand, costs roughly the same as meat and has a comparable level of protein, making it a more feasible option for industrial meat processors. With the recent boom of plant-based and clean meat companies, you might wonder why we need to bother with blended meat at all. For one thing: scale. Plant-based meat companies are having difficulty meeting growing demand for their products, and even when you can track them down they can be prohibitively expensive. Clean meat isn’t commercially available yet, and it’ll be a while before it’s cost-competitive with the traditional stuff.

“By all means, clean meat and plant-based meat will continue to evolve over the years to come,” Bromley explained. “But for now, we have blending.”

And we do need something now if we want to cut down on the shockingly high environmental footprint of meat production. Americans are projected to eat more meat in 2018 than ever before, despite a growing demand for plant-based proteins. Blended meat can draft off of both of these trends.

Better Meat Co.’s overall strategy is refreshingly realistic. Besides the current constraints around clean and plant-based meats, there will always be carnivores who think that a meal without meat is no meal at all. For those who don’t want to opt for the vegan sausage, for whatever the reason, blended meat offers a nice — and affordable — compromise. “It’s a bridge between where we are now and where we’ll be ultimately,” said Bromley. “It’s a continuum.”

As of now, Better Meat Co. has raised over $800,000. They’re currently in pre-sales and are planning to launch with several meat processing partners over the next month.

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