Since the first commercially available veggie burgers hit the market in the early 1980s, the race has been on to develop a meatless patty that compares in taste, texture and grill-ability to the real deal. Over the years, brands like MorningStar Farms, Boca Burger and Gardenburger—which sell frozen patties made from ingredients like soy and bean protein, nuts, grains and seeds—have become multimillion dollar businesses. Even restaurants like Burger King have added meatless burgers to their menus.
But for the most part, veggie burgers haven't yet been able to stand up to the original. That’s why for several years, a few high-tech companies have been pursuing a veggie burger 2.0. Beyond Meat is the first to market with the Beyond Burger, which will debut next week at the Whole Foods in Boulder, Colorado, according to Stephanie Strom at The New York Times.
The product is derived primarily from pea proteins and is a vegan non-frozen burger patty with no preservatives. It will retail for $5.99 for two four-ounce patties can be sold in the same refrigerated case as fresh beef burgers.
One of the most important goals of developing this burger is that it looks, smell and cooks like the real "MooCoy"—brown on the outside and pink in the middle. And it had to "bleed." That’s why they add pulverized beets to the mix, according to Strom. (Though the red fluid that leaks out of meat isn't blood at all, it's myoglobin.)
Beyond Burger was developed over seven years with investments from Bill Gates and Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, write Cristina Alesci and Ahiza Garcia of CNN Money. The idea was to “understand meat” then re-build it in a plant-based form.
“A lot of people love to eat meat. What I'm doing is allowing them to eat more of what they love, more meat,” Beyond Meat's CEO, Ethan Brown, tells CNN. “It’s just meat from plants. That's the only difference.”
One of the many hurdles was distributing “fat” throughout the burger, Joseph Puglisi, professor of structural biology at Stanford and lead scientific advisor for Beyond Meat, tells Strom. “We were able to get fat distributed throughout a patty—but in meat, fat is distributed in sheets. Plants don’t have ligaments.” According to CNN, the burger's "fat" comes from a mixture of canola, sunflower and coconut oil.
The Beyond Burger isn’t the only engineered patty consumers will get a chance to sample. Later this year another high-tech burger company Impossible Foods, founded by Stanford Biochemist Patrick Brown, will debut its meatless burger in restaurants in New York, L.A. and San Francisco.
Then there’s the specter of lab-grown meat, cultured from animal stem cells that produce meat without causing the death of livestock. That technology, which produced a $325,000 hamburger in 2013, has already dropped its price to about $11 per burger.
The market promises big gains in the coming years. Brown says that for meatless burgers the market could top $30 billion per year in the near future. “If you look today, there's soy milk, almond milk," said Brown. "Three or four years from now, when you go into the meat section of any major supermarket, you'll be able to buy a plant-based version of meat right next to an animal version.”