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Leon Kaye headshot

Meatless Alternatives Aren’t Just Becoming “Mainstream” – They’re Making Big Bucks

By Leon Kaye

Those veggie burgers of yesteryear that you once ate to “be good,” not because you thought they tasted good, are becoming a distant memory. The quality of these plant-based foods has drastically improved, as brands such as Gardein, Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods have relished their roles as disruptors within the food industry.

These disruptors have spurred other alternative protein startups to create more innovative food products, and investors have been noticing. Last year, these companies attracted at least a quarter of a billion dollars in funding, and this trend shows no signs of abating anytime soon. For example, Impossible Foods, which has long garnered headlines for its “bloody” re-engineered fake burger, has proven that “alternative” hardly means these food items occupy a lonely corner of a menu to appease the small but growing percentage of the population who identify themselves as vegetarian or vegan.

As Impossible Foods’ senior vice president of global sales, Stephanie Lind, recently shared in Medium post, the Impossible Burger has done far more than get its foot in the door at some of the top burger chains in the U.S. – it has caused sales at many restaurants to spike dramatically.

Sure, it helped that top chefs have been wowed by the taste and texture of the Impossible Burger. The bloody yet cow-free burger has also won its share of awards, which have helped generate even more buzz for the company. But bottom line, the Impossible Burger has helped drive revenues, including at Los Angeles-based Umami Burger, which has experienced sharp increases in consumer traffic and more importantly, sales. Restaurant managers want a winner - and the Impossible Burger shines, without leaving behind a hefty environmental and public health footprint.

According to Impossible Foods, this phenomenon is not just occurring in areas where a restaurant is the only one in town serving up the Impossible Burger – the company claims restaurants deriving the most revenues from the fake burger are located in cities like New York, Chicago and L.A. that boast dozens of outlets selling the product.

But what could really make meat alternatives scale up is if fast-casual and fast food outlets start selling products such as the Impossible Burger. After all, the bloody meat-free burger for the most part is relegated to more expensive chains (scoring the Impossible Burger at Umami Burger at LAX’s Tom Bradley Terminal, for example, will set you back more than $18 after tax).

This could soon change, however, The $1.99 Impossible Slider at White Castle, launched last month, has reaped rave reviews for the most part (could a Harold and Kumar sequel be in the works?). Could a competitor soon follow? Companies such as McDonald’s, after years of sluggish sales, have performed better in recent months, but that upward trend could shift in a heartbeat.

And speaking of heart-healthy food, Business Insider has pointed out that fast food companies are missing out on what could be a $13 billion opportunity – vegan, plant-based diet alternatives within their meat and potatoes-heavy menu. If these companies buy-in, startups like Impossible Foods could scale up – and ironically, these same fast food giants long pilloried for demolishing public health and the world’s food supply could actually have a role in reducing global demand for meat – critical if the planet will be able to feed the 9 billion or so people expected here by mid-century.

Image credit: Impossible Foods

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye