On April 1, fast food giant Burger King announced its latest burger — a burger without meat.

Despite what many thought, it was no April Fool’s joke. The BK ImpossibleWhopper is for real, and if you can believe much of the Internet chatter, it’s pretty good.

The Impossible Whopper is perhaps the biggest splash to date made by Redwood City, California-based Impossible Foods, which develops plant-based substitutes for meat and dairy products.

For Burger King, the company developed a patty out of soy protein, potato protein, coconut oil, sunflower oil, heme and other ingredients.

Impossible Burger touts its ability to deliver a great-tasting burger that’s also good for you. And it claims that the Impossible Burger generates about 87% fewer greenhouse gases, uses 75% less water and requires about 95% less land than conventional ground beef.

And Impossible Foods is hardly alone. Throughout the food industry, the number of plant-based proteins is surging, as consumers look to not only improve their health but to do so in a way they perceive as being good for the Earth.

Even meat industry giants are riding the plant protein wave. Companies like Cargill, Tyson, Hormel and ADM all are exploring the development of plant-based alternatives to meat.


Bristol, Before the Butcher partner on industry first

Retailer Bristol Farms is the first grocer in the country selling unpackaged plant-based meats and entrees behind the glass in its butcher section.

A new Bristol Farms store in Yorba Linda will feature the plant-based items.

The selection at the Yorba Linda store includes plant-based chicken burgers and breakfast sausage from Huntington Beach, California-based Before the Butcher as well as items like no-meat taco mix, vegetarian meatloaf, vegetarian stuffed cabbage, chorizo-stuffed potatoes and a Mediterranean meatless patty made by Bristol Farms chefs using Before the Butcher’s ground products.

Bristol Farms is Before the Butcher’s first retail partner, but the company is in discussion with every major retailer in the country and also many smaller retailers, says Danny O’Malley, Before the Butcher’s president. (Until the Bristol Farms deal, the company was focused on foodservice.)

“I don’t have to tell you how hot the market is for the products we have, and we’re really excited about it,” O’Malley says. “What makes us special is we have a broad product line for foodservice and retail.”

For now, all of the Before the Butcher products sold at Bristol Farms will be sold behind the meat counter, but the two companies are also is talks to add Before the Butcher products to Bristol Farms prepared food offerings, O’Malley says.

The alternative protein revolution, he says, has many grocery retailers starting to think differently about how they label their meat department.

“We don’t refer to it as the meat department — it’s the protein department,” O’Malley says. “There’s seafood, poultry, many times wild game, beef, lamb, sometimes goat —  a lot of different proteins. We’re another protein source, and we believe we belong there with other protein sources and believe the consumer is ready for that.”

Health, environmental impact and concerns over animal cruelty are the three main factors driving demand for alternative proteins, O’Malley says.

“We provide the ideal transition for anybody interested in eating a little healthier,” he says. “Our products mimic the comfort foods everyone loves. The texture, bite and chew are very similar to animal-based protein, and the taste is great. When you bite down, you’re going to say, ‘This is a burger.’ It just happens to be made out of plants.”

Environmental impact, meanwhile, is particularly important to younger consumers, O’Malley says. “Middle-millennials on down, they’re concerned about the environment in a big way, and they’ve been educated and have grown up that way. They get it. We don’t have to spend a lot of time talking to them about the environmental impact, they already know that.”

Demographic trends ensure that demand for plant-based proteins will only grow, O’Malley says.

“This is not a fad — I even struggle with the word trend,” he says. “It’s a lifestyle change that people are making. And it’s not going to change. We know that by 2050, the world will probably have 9 billion people. We cannot feed 9 billion people with animal-based proteins.”

And that growth will not primarily be led by people switching to vegetarianism and veganism, O’Malley says.
“Probably 80% plus of our products are consumed by meat eaters. That’s the core of our customer base. Vegetarians are really important to us, and we want to make sure we take care of all of them, but the biggest group is meat eaters —  flexitarians, reducitarians. They’re looking for another option. They may never stop eating meat, but they want to know another option is out there. We are a transitional product that people never transition out of.”


Tyson affirms commitment to protein alternatives

In April, Tyson Foods sold its stake in alternative protein producer Beyond Meat. But Tyson remains committed to exploring plant-based alternatives, says Tyson president and CEO Noel White. In fact, just a month later, the company announced its plan to begin rolling out its own plant-based products this summer.   

“We are combining our creativity, our scale and our resources to make great tasting protein alternatives more accessible for everyone, both domestically and internationally,” White says. “We will be leveraging all the resources we have at our disposal, our insights, our innovation, manufacturing, sales, distribution and a global platform.”

When Tyson announced its commitment to alternative proteins in January 2018, then-president/CEO Tom Hayes said the move was part of a larger evolution into other sources of protein beyond what Tyson is primarily known for — chicken.

“We know what comes to mind when people think of Tyson Foods, and that’s chicken,” Hayes said. “But in truth, we’re about chicken and so much more. We’re about sausage and pepperoni. Scrambled eggs and convenience snacks. Deli turkey and beef jerky. And now, through our venture capital fund, cultured meats and plant-based proteins. All of those foods have one common link: protein.”

A protein strategy inclusive of alternative forms, Hayes added, is “intuitive” for Tyson. “It’s another step toward giving today’s consumers what they want and feeding tomorrow’s consumers sustainably for years to come. No one knows exactly what the future of food will look like. That’s why we’re exploring new approaches.”