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Welcome to 2020, Future Food readers! It wouldn’t be the end of the year/the start of a new one without a flurry of year-end look back pieces. Last week, I did a deep dive into the growth (and challenges) experienced by the plant-based food landscape in 2019. Here’s the full piece if you’re interested, but TL;DR:
- Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat launched version 2.0 of their plant-based beef, and it was really tasty (especially Impossible’s).
- Beyond Meat went public (!!!) and smashed expectations with a record-setting IPO.
- Big Food began to muscle its way into the plant-based meat space.
- Europe and Asia saw major growth in alternative proteins, both in grocery stores and restaurants.
- Plant-based meat struggled against public pushback re: processing, as well as labeling restrictions.
Overall, it was a very tumultuous — and chiefly successful — year for animal alternatives, from burgers to dairy. And 2020 is shaping up to be just as exciting. Here are a few of my predictions for the next 364 days:
- Fast-food chains will continue to embrace plant-based meat, and not just burgers (think: faux chicken).
- Plant-based foods will make headway in the fight against restrictive state labeling laws, as they have in Mississippi.
- We’ll see a rise in innovative (and sustainable) protein creation methods, from fermented dairy proteins to protein grown from air and water.
- As a response to the criticism over heavy processing in plant-based meat production, we’ll see a rise in smaller, clean label, organic brands.
I want to explore that last point a bit deeper because I think it’s a significant sea change we’ll see in the plant-based meat space in 2020. One of the biggest challenges for meat alternatives in 2019 was growing pushback against its production methods, which can include processing for texture, dyes, preservatives, or even lab-grown ingredients like Impossible’s ace in the hole, heme. That came to a head when Chipotle’s CEO called plant-based meat “too processed” for its stores.
As a response, I think we’ll see a rise in more clean label plant-based meat products over the coming year; ones that use fewer, minimally processed, and even organic ingredients. Several of these brands already exist and are starting to gain traction: Planted and Daring Foods both make chicken alternatives from five ingredients or under. No Evil makes clean label, non-GMO faux chicken and ground beef. And Fast Company reported this week on how Abbot’s Butcher, a self-described “small batch” meat alternative, is striking deals with fast-casual restaurant chains.
Right now these players are all quite small. I haven’t tasted most of their products, but I imagine it’s hard to make clean label food compete flavor-wise with the umami bomb of an Impossible burger, or the realistic snap of a Beyond Meat sausage. It’ll also be a challenge to compete against Beyond and Impossible’s widespread availability and brand recognition.
But in 2020, I bet we’ll see more of these artisanal meat alternatives popping up — and more restaurants choosing to put them on their menus to cash into consumer demand for organic and non-GMO foods. I’ll check back in a year to see if I was right.
JUST Egg taste test
The meat alternative space may be diversifying, but plant-based eggs are still a pretty niche product. One that I put to the test over the holidays.
This is a bit of a tradition for me at this point. Last year over Christmas break my extended family — all seventeen of us — did a taste test of White Castle’s plant-based Impossible Sliders. They were a hit. So we decided to continue the try-a-new-animal-product-alternative thing this year with JUST Egg, a mung bean-based liquid scrambled egg substitute.
You can read the full piece here, but long story short, JUST Egg was not as big of a hit as the Impossible Whopper. I did the taste test alongside a plate of scrambled chicken eggs, and while the textures of the two was quite similar, JUST Egg has a uniform pale yellow color that makes it obvious which is which. A couple testers also noted that it had an artificial (though not entirely unpleasant) flavor, or that it tasted “bean-y.”
That said, everyone who tried JUST Egg was impressed by how close the texture was to the real thing. Even my brother, a scrambled egg lover, said that if you mixed it with cheese or tucked it into a breakfast burrito, he probably wouldn’t have known the difference. Here’s to more plant-based egg innovation in 2020.
Protein ’round the web
– Starting today, KFC will add its Vegan Burger (a plant-based fried chicken sandwich) to all of its menus across the U.K. (h/t VegNews)
– Speaking of the U.K., LiveKindly reports that Pizza Huts nationwide are now offering plant-based pepperoni made from pea protein for a limited time.
– Plantible, a San Diego-based startup, has developed a new plant-based protein from lemna (AKA the aquatic plant duckweed).