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Hi guys. Seeing as it’s summertime, the season for grilling, lately I’ve had some deep thoughts about (plant-based) burgers. Specifically, why they’re one of the only options in the meatless meat section of my grocery store.

Like the Little Mermaid, I want more. Chicken is the most popular meat in America, so why can’t I find a decent plant-based version of it?

Tastes like…
There’s clearly a demand for plant-based poultry. KFC in the U.K. recently tested out a plant-based chicken patty called the Imposter Burger that sold out in just four days.

But considering the popularity of chicken, innovation has been surprisingly slow when it comes to finding an alternative to the real thing. Perhaps that’s because poultry has a far smaller environmental cost than cattle, so companies have prioritized beef over chicken. Or maybe the texture of chicken is harder to emulate than that of ground beef.

Nonetheless, we are starting to see a few leaders hatch:

  • Poultry processing giant Tyson launched its Raised & Rooted line last month. One of its first two products was a vegetarian “chicken” nugget made of pea protein and egg whites.
  • Swiss startup Planted makes meat-free chicken from pea protein, pea fiber, water and sunflower oil.
  • Last week NUGGS launched its plant-based chicken nuggets, which it delivers in boxes right to consumers’ doorsteps.
  • Rebellyous, formerly called Seattle Food Tech, also makes vegan chicken nuggets. It sells them wholesale to large-scale foodservice providers like schools and hospitals.
  • In the U.K., THIS, whose chicken “chunks’ are pictured above, just launched its plant-based poultry in stores yesterday.
  • Meatless meat veteran Quorn, which is available in 18 countries, has a variety of vegetarian and vegan chicken products.
  • Freezer aisle staples Morningstar Farms and Gardein offer plant-based nuggets.
Photo: Beyond Meat

There’s the Beef

That’s not to say alterna-beef is going anywhere. In fact, it’s only going to get eerily closer to the real thing.

I found that out the hard way when I cooked up a package of Beyond Beef, the new, “meatier” ground beef product from Beyond Meat. I haven’t eaten meat in quite a while, but dang — this took me back. The flavor was full of umami and the texture really mimicked the juicy give and bounce of ground beef.

As a vegetarian, that verisimilitude grossed me out. But my colleague Chris Albrecht and my carnivorous roommate were both big fans, though my roommate noted it had a slightly “chemically” taste.

Despite the positive reviews, I think it’ll take a while before people flock to Beyond Beef like they did to the original burger. Right now it costs $9.99 for one pound. That’s roughly on-par with organic, grass-fed beef. Most people I know would rather spring for higher-quality beef — which has a smaller environmental footprint than industrial beef and, some actually argue, a critical role in the ecosystem.

In fact, with its new ground “beef,” Beyond Meat may be entering the Uncanny Valley, something we’ve referenced frequently for humanoid robots but not for meat alternatives. Beyond Beef is almost indistinguishable from beef. But it’s just different enough — slight discrepancies in flavor, aftertaste, and texture — that it could be off-putting.

All that said, I’ll reiterate that I’m a vegetarian and Beyond Beef was too much like the real thing for me to enjoy it. It’s still quite new so we’ll have to see if flexitarians have beef with Beyond’s new offering.

Where in the world is Impossible Foods?

With all this talk about what will be the next hot plant-based meat, it’s easy to overlook the where piece. This week Impossible Foods’ SVP for International made the location question pretty clear when he laid out the startup’s expansion strategy.

One word: Asia.

We’ve seen this coming for a while now. Asia is the new hotspot for alternative protein innovation, both plant- and cell-based. It’s got a ton of consumer demand, a relatively open playing field, and ample manufacturing power. Add to that mixture the recent outbreaks of African swine fever, and Asia seems primed for an alt-meat revolution.

There are also a few local plant-based protein companies gaining traction there, including Omnipork and Phuture Meat. But there are currently lots more U.S. and European players, and they have more funding. We’ll likely see quite a few of them trying to carve out a piece of the Asian alt-protein market before the competition gets too fierce.

Photo: Business Newswire.

Protein ’round the web

  • A new food hall is opening in Providence, RI. The draw? All the businesses inside are entirely plant-based (h/t Forbes).
  • Beyond Meat will be popping up in Blue Apron’s meal kits this summer. Will the plant-based darling’s fame help the struggling meal kit company? Probably not.
  • Integriculture, the Japanese cellular agriculture company, is launching a joint research project with food processing giant NH Foods Ltd. to develop large-scale production processes for cell-based meat.

If you happen to be in Tokyo in August, you can see the founder of Integriculture, Yuki Hanyu, speak on a panel at SKS Japan about the future of protein. Tickets here

Be careful what you wish for. Finally, remember how Arby’s made meat into vegetables as a cheeky response to the rise in plant-based meat? Apparently, they got a lot more than they bargained for.

Eat well,
Catherine

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