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

leonkaye headshotWords by Leon Kaye
Energy & Environment
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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 headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye, Executive Editor, has written for Triple Pundit since 2010. He is also the Director of Social Media and Engagement for 3BL Media, and the Editor in Chief of CR Magazine. His previous work can be found at The GuardianSustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. Kaye is based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye