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If there was ever an example of a bad product launch, it would be New Coke.
In the mid-80s, Coca-Cola futzed with its iconic formula to create a sweeter version of its soda that would replace its storied flagship drink. The launch did not go well, and 79 days later, the company brought the “Classic” formula back (New Coke eventually just… faded away).
I was thinking about New Coke this week as Beyond Meat announced a new 3.0 version of its plant-based burger, which will be released in stores next week. Since their respective introductions into the market, both Beyond and its rival, Impossible Foods, have tinkered with their plant-based burger formulas. Their goal is to keep refining their products to achieve ever more convincing facsimiles of traditional animal meat to entice more people to give up eating cows.
So far the results have been good. Beyond’s 2.0 burger was a vast improvement over the first version. But what happens if they take the tweaks too far? What if, cloistered away in their labs, Beyond and Impossible misjudge popular taste? In other words, what happens when Beyond or Impossible make their own plant-based New Coke?
The scenarios don’t exactly match up. At the time of New Coke’s launch, Coca-Cola was an almost-century-old American institution, recognized and consumed the world over. By the 80s, almost everyone in the U.S. had a history with the brand and had grown up drinking it. They didn’t want any “improvements” from Coke; they wanted reliability.
But plant-based meat is a pretty new concept. Sure, sales of plant-based meat grew more than $430 million from 2019 to 2020 and the market is now worth $1.4 billion. But according to the latest data from the Good Food Institute, the plant-based meat sector only has a U.S. household penetration of 18 percent. That means there are a ton of people who have yet to even try Beyond or Impossible burgers. They wouldn’t necessarily even know that there was a previous version that tasted different, or formed that deep of an attachment to either product.
In some ways, Beyond and Impossible are the new Coke vs. Pepsi. Anecdotally speaking, there seem to be “camps” forming around either brand. You’re either Team Beyond or Team Impossible. In my house, for example, my wife and I prefer Impossible because to our palates it tastes more like a traditional hamburger. But my young son likes Beyond because he feels Impossible is too close to the taste of beef. (I poked around for some general brand loyalty data, but didn’t come across anything recent.)
If Beyond’s new burger, for whatever reason, is less pleasing to people (it could be because of taste or mouthfeel or whatever), will they give up and switch over to Impossible? There are lots of reasons to eat plant-based meat such as the ethics around eating animals and the environmental impact of meat. So eating Beyond or Impossible isn’t simply about taste. If Beyond’s new version is unappealing, there are other plant-based options that may not taste as good to some eaters, but people can still feel good about eating those alternatives.
Unlike Coca-Cola, I think there is still room for improvement in plant-based meat facsimiles. I don’t necessarily need them to “bleed,” but there can be some slight aftertaste issues, the texture could improve and both Beyond and Impossible have way too much sodium.
I do like Beyond Burgers (also their plant-based sausage patties are the best) and will be first in line to buy version 3.0 when it hits my store. And while I won’t wash it down with a Coke (too much sugar), hopefully I’ll consider the new burger a classic… until the next version is announced.
Meet HECTAR, an Open-Source Project for At-Home Vertical Farming -- Rather than mass-producing a whole farm and selling it to consumers, the project’s creators have instead made a manual and documentation available for free download, so that any DIY enthusiast can build their very own hydroponic growing system.
Environmental Engineers Use Corn Waste to Treat and Filter Water -- The UC Riverside lab found that corn stover could be turned into activated carob, also known as activated charcoal, by charring it. Activated carbon is commonly used to filter and treat water because it contains millions of microscopic pores that can absorb water and filter out toxins.
Something Better Foods Receives $500K Investment from ICA -- Something Better Foods aims to make plant-based foods more accessible to people of color, and ICA’s goal is to “…accelerate great businesses through mentoring and investments to close the racial and gender wealth gaps.”
Irish Drone Delivery Startup Manna Raises $25M Series A -- The round was led by Draper Esprit, and Manna says that a single operator can oversee 20 deliveries per hour.