Zikooin, a South Korean food manufacturing company, today announced it would bring its plant-based Unlimeat to the U.S. market this year. Unlimeat is made from grains, oats and nuts and is meant to look and taste like thinly-sliced cuts of beef. It’s currently sold exclusively in South Korea.
According to a press release, Zikooin uses ingredients that would typically be thrown away due to cosmetic imperfections. Those ingredients are combined through Zikooin’s patented “protein compression” technology, which apparently gives the finished product a very meat-like texture. The company has stated that this manufacturing process is already approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration.
Obviously I haven’t tasted Unlimeat yet, but I do think there’s a significant market opportunity in the U.S. for plant-based meats that aren’t burgers, sausages, deli meats or chicken nuggets. Americans demand diverse cuisines and ingredients — and that expands to meat alternatives, as well. Impossible is already rising to meet that demand for the new with its latest product: plant-based ground pork. But when it comes to meatless whole cuts of beef, there are very few options out there.
Zikooin is smart to bring its plant-based beef filets to the U.S. market before it becomes crowded with competitors making a similar product. As of now there are very few alt-steak offerings already available, mostly because of the textural challenge of making whole-muscle “meat” from plants. Some are developing more sophisticated 3D-printed or cell-based versions, which truly emulate the texture of beef, but it’ll be quite a few years before you can pick up those options in a grocery store.
Zikooin’s choice to use upcycled ingredients is also an interesting one. Not only is it a smart environmental and economical choice to make use of often-wasted foods, but it can also help sell to more sustainability-minded consumers — just ask Misfit Foods, Imperfect Foods (formerly Imperfect Produce) and Full Harvest. To tap into growing demand for sustainable ingredients, Zikooin would be smart to emphasize the whole “ugly produce” angle on its packaging when it does hit store shelves.
We’ll soon find out. Over email Keum Chae, CEO of Unlimeat, said that the product is already sold in SUPER FRESH MART in NYC and will be featured for a limited time in several San Francisco restaurants. In April, the company will begin selling Unlimeat online and later this year they plan to selling Unlimeat BBQ and Dumpling products at Costco and Whole Foods. The plant-based beef will sell for around $9 per pound, which is on par with a package of Beyond Meat sausages.
Unlimeat isn’t only expanding into the U.S., however. Chae said that the product will soon launch in Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and China.
If you’re in San Francisco, you can give this alt-beef an early taste test: the company is holding a free pop-up event on January 19th at the Ferry Building where it will be grilling up samples of Unlimeat in a Korean-style barbecue. If you hit it up, be sure to let us know what you think!