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This week I had about five people ping me — including my mom’s friend and my uncle — when the New York Times published an article by Anahad O’Connor exploring the question: Is plant-based meat good for you?
Provocatively titled “Fake Meat vs. Real Meat,” the piece lays out how the meat industry is accusing meat alternatives of being heavily processed and, therefore, suspect. Plant-based meat companies argue that they’re no more processed than, say, yogurt, or bread.
The article is worth a read if you’re looking for an overview on the state of the alt-meat industry. But I think the bigger question at play here — more important than “Is plant-based meat good for you?” — is “How much does it matter?” After all, we aren’t meant to be eating Beyond burgers every day, just like we’re not meant to eat beef burgers every day.
The article touches on this point a bit towards the end. It quotes Pat Brown, CEO of Impossible Foods: “If you’re hungry for a burger and you want something that’s better for you and better for the planet that delivers everything you want from a burger, then this is a great product. But if you’re hungry for a salad, eat a salad.”
Scientists are still trying to determine the long-term health effects of plant-based burgers, so I think it’s a little early to say that they’re categorically “better for you” than beef burgers.
The bigger point is that plant-based burgers aren’t supposed to be better for you than regular burgers. Instead, they’re meant to fill a gap in the market that didn’t exist: really tasty, vegan junk food that hits the spot just as well as the real thing. Because even though black bean or quinoa burgers are unarguably healthier than beef burgers, they just don’t scratch the “I need a burger” itch in the same way.
Impossible burgers and its brethren can — or are at least pretty darn close. And while they might not be a diet-friendly option, they’re almost certainly healthier for the planet than an average beef burger. Just don’t expect them to magically be both tasty and healthy.
There you go, Uncle Peter! That’s what I think about the article.
Big Food goes vertical with plant-based
Growing up, a microwaved Stouffer’s frozen lasagna was my ultimate culinary treat. Then I stopped eating meat and had to take it out of my meal rotation.
That’s why I was so excited to learn that this week Nestlé announced it would be incorporating its Sweet Earth Awesome plant-based beef crumbles into two products from its portfolio companies: Digiorno’s frozen pizza and Stouffer’s frozen lasagna.
When I heard this news, my first thought was “duh.” My second thought was “Why haven’t Nestlé — and other Big Food companies — done this before?”
It’s a win-win-win way for Nestlé to tap into the flexitarian trend, attract millennial new consumers to older, well-established brands, and also give a competitive edge to its Awesome product line. That last point will become ever more critical as the plant-based space gets more and more crowded.
I’m betting we’ll see more Big Food companies — Unilever, Kellogg’s, and the like — embracing this sort of vertical integration with their plant-based products down the road.
Finger-lickin’ good, even without the meat
When KFC did a one-day pilot of meatless Beyond Chicken at a location in Atlanta, it attracted long lines and viral media attention. Then it sold out in five hours.
Last week, the fast-food chain decided to see if Canada would have the same reaction. KFC debuted a plant-based fried chicken sandwich and popcorn chicken (made with Lightlife Foods, not Beyond Meat) for one day only at one location in Canada. It sold out in six hours.
One hour discrepancy aside, the results speak for themselves: People want more plant-based options in QSR’s — and not just burgers. KFC has stated that it would look at these one-day tests as it decides whether or not to roll out alternative chicken at more locations in 2020.
It seems like the answer will be yes.
Protein ’round the web
- Australian startup v2food has raised $35 million for its plant-based meat operation.
- Scientists at the University of Bath are growing animal tissue cells on grass and working their way towards bacon (Stock Daily Dish).
- General Mills just launched its first plant-based yogurt (made with coconut) under its Oui brand (Star Tribune).
- Avant Meats did the first public taste test of its cultured fish maw (a delicacy that’s the swim bladders of certain fish) in Hong Kong.