Across America, there are, surprisingly, very few individuals joining the vegetarian bandwagon. Many more are opting for a plant-based diet that incorporates some fish, maybe a little dairy, and a little white meat on rare occasions—closely resembling the popular Mediterranean diet. Of course, there is also the latest movement known as the Carnivore diet where individuals believe that plants are toxic and survive solely on meat—but that’s for another post.
While only 5 percent of Americans define themselves as vegetarians, over 50 percent say they are trying to eat more plant-based foods. According to a report by Baum + Whiteman, international food and restaurant consultants, more than 30 percent of Americans have meat-free days, more than 50 percent of adults drink non-dairy milk such as oat or almond, and 83 percent are adding more plant-based foods to their diets to improve health and nutrition.
In fact, their 2018 Trend of the Year was “Plant-based Foods Go Mainstream.”
When you consider that Google has seen a 90 percent increase in vegan searches in the past year and Wal-Mart is pleading with suppliers to ramp up their plant-based product development, it appears that they were fairly accurate in their prediction.
Fortunately, for restaurants, food companies are rising to the occasion. In fact, there are two companies that are going after the lion’s share of this burgeoning industry—Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods.
According to Equity Zen, Beyond Meat is currently raising $240 million with plans to “move the world closer to plant-based protein that mimics animal-based meat.” With high profile investors such as General Mills and Tyson Foods, we believe they might just accomplish their worthy goal.
This fast growing business currently sells their product in over 35,000 restaurants, grocery stores, universities, and hotels across the U.S. Their signature product is “The Beyond Burger” which uses peas as the primary source of protein and beets to give the burger a red-meat appearance. Their patty, however, goes beyond ingredients simply mixed together with grains, nuts, or mushrooms—your typical vegetarian burger. Their process includes applying heating, cooling, and pressure in such a way that aligns plant proteins that closely mimic the fiber found in meat. They claim it is “the world’s first plant-based burger that looks, cooks, and satisfies like beef, without GMOs, soy, or gluten.”
You can find their burger at Carl’s Jr. under the name “Beyond Burger.”
In addition to burgers, they offer sausages and ground beef. They tried vegetarian Chicken Strips, which didn’t quite hit the mark and were recently discontinued. Chefs and scientists are currently working on a tastier version.
Started in 2011, Impossible Foods has raised a whopping $388 million. They are currently producing 500,000 pounds of their products every month and can be found in over 5,000 restaurants. White Castle and Burger King have either launched or are soon-to-be making available Impossible Foods signature meatless-hamburger which will sell as the Impossible Slider and the Impossible Whopper respectively.
Their burgers are made from soy and potato proteins with a touch of coconut and sunflower oils that they say give it the “sizzle” factor. They also use heme, a molecule found in virtually all living things, suggesting it’s what gives their burgers that “unmistakable meaty flavor.” There’s quite a science behind the making of this molecule that includes soy’s DNA inserted into genetically engineered yeast that goes way beyond my limited science background. Let’s just say that it appears to take more scientists than chefs to create a meatless patty that even carnivores will love.
Both companies are making an environmental impact. The Center for Sustainable Systems at the University of Michigan conducted a “cradle-to-distribution” life cycle assessment for the Beyond Burger. They determined that, when compared to ¼ pound of U.S. beef, it generates 90 percent less greenhouse gas emissions, requires 46 percent less energy, and has over 99 percent less impact on water scarcity and 93 percent less impact on land use.
The Environmental Life Cycle Analysis of the Impossible Burger reads like this: compared to conventional ground beef, the Impossible Burger reduces environmental impacts across every category—87 percent less water, 96 percent less land, 89 fewer greenhouse gas emissions, and 92 percent less aquatic pollutants.
I don’t know about you, but I’m definitely gearing up to take a taste-test comparison. It ends up, what’s good for people is also good for the planet, and the current companies in the plant-based arena are making it easy for restaurants to join this growing trend.