When I first heard Beyond Meat was releasing a ground beef-like product, I immediately started anticipating what I would do with it once I got my hands on a pack. Burgers, sure. But also meatballs, bolognese, even tacos?
Last week I finally got the chance to put those plans into action when I was shopping at my local Whole Foods and my eyes landed on a fresh new lineup of Beyond Beef. I decided to put the Beyond Beef to the test in the simplest way possible: burgers. Coincidentally I also had a pack of Lightlife’s meatless burgers in my fridge, so I opted to cook up both plant-based offerings for comparison’s sake.
Beyond Beef looks like ground beef. It has the same reddish hue, texture, and is even speckled with white bits of fat (made from coconut oil). It was easy to shape into a patty shape — perhaps even easier than real beef, which you have to handle very delicately to avoid toughening.
As I cooked the Beyond Beef the fat rendered out and sizzled and the burger changed from red to brown. But it was as soon as I bit into the Beyond Beef burger that I knew something was really different. The texture was exactly like beef (at least the way I remember it): loose and tender, speckled with pockets of juicy fat. By comparison, the Lightlife burger had a tougher texture and their flavor, while meaty, had the off-putting aftertaste that many pea protein products struggle with.
In truth, the Beyond Beef was almost too realistic for me. I haven’t eaten meat in five years, and eating a Beyond Beef burger was almost too close to the real thing for comfort. Even when I made the remainder into bolognese later in the week (you guessed it — it cooks up just like ground beef) I had trouble finishing it; the beefy flavor permeated the whole sauce in a way that was a little too strong for my liking.
But the real reason I likely won’t buy Beyond Beef again is why so many others will. Beyond isn’t targeting vegetarians or vegans to buy its products (though many certainly do and will). Instead, they’re hoping to attract flexitarians: people trying to cut down their meat consumption, for health or environmental reasons, but don’t want to give up burgers, meatballs, or tacos. With the new Beyond Beef I think they’ve nailed it.
That said, there’s one big reason Beyond Meat might have trouble capturing a mainstream audience: it’s expensive. A pack of Beyond Beef, which is 16 ounces, cost $9.99 at my local Whole Foods. It has four servings, which means it’s actually a better deal than the Beyond burgers (which cost $5.99 for a pack of two). But it’s still almost triple the price of your average ground beef. Organic, grass-fed beef is roughly the same price as Beyond Beef, but Beyond will have to get its cost down before it can hope to tear the average consumer away from beef.
Separately, I’m curious to see whether Beyond Beef is helped or hurt by the entrance of Impossible Foods into the retail space later this year. Impossible hasn’t yet announced if they’ll be selling their “beef” as burger patties or ground meat. However, seeing how much emphasis the company has been putting on the versatility of its product, I’m guessing it’ll be the latter.
That means we could soon have the two main plant-based meat companies duking it out for ground “beef” supremacy of the grocery aisle. However, I don’t think it’s a winner-take-all situation; when it comes to meatless ground meat, there are so few good-tasting options that there’s likely room for both players to flourish.
And room for more to enter the scene. Startups like U.K.-based Meatless Meat, which is heading onto Whole Foods, are offering new plant-based options in retail. Big Food companies like Tyson and Perdue are also dipping their toes into the alt-protein space with their blended products, which combine meat and plants. Just this week Gardein, which is owned by Conagra, announced it’s developing its own line of meat-like meat alternatives, including a burger that looks a heckuva lot like Beyond Meat’s.
Despite the competition ahead, with its versatility, Beyond Beef is a great step by the company to bring plant-based meat to consumers’ plates in a variety of different dishes. Just not mine.