It used to be that people said it was impossible to make a meatless burger taste like meat. Then they said it would be impossible to make a meatless burger economical. Now that these types of meatless burgers have arrived, they are saying it is impossible to keep them in stock. Impossible Foods, the current darling of the alternative-protein producers, is on a roll, and the meat industry is taking notice in a big way. 

Recently, Tyson Foods announced it was entering the market. Within a year, Tyson plans to introduce a number of plant-meat hybrid products. Beyond Meat, another leader in the plant-based “meat” industry had its IPO last month. Shares of the company were initially priced at $25. Six weeks later, the shares were trading at more than $150 per share.

There are many factors contributing to the explosive growth of plant-based meat products, but it remains unclear whether this growth is sustainable. Currently, there are numerous factors that are working together to generate excitement. For one, consumers have been gravitating toward plant-based products for some time, largely because of health and environmental considerations. 

Additionally, companies such as Burger King, Red Robin, White Castle and Qdoba are adding popular plant-based products to their menus. This has spurred a lot of publicity, which in turn leads customers to go out and try the new products, which increases demand, which further increases publicity. Whether this cycle will continue remains to be seen; however, with increased investment, it is likely the products will continue to improve, if only because there will be an ever-increasing amount of money available for product research and development.  

There are many misconceptions that remain about plant-based meats. Foremost among them is the idea that these products are inherently healthier than their animal-based predecessors. In reality, a plant-based burger provides roughly the same nutrient levels as a beef burger. Some claim that the foods are safer because plants don’t carry the pathogens that meats do. Outbreaks associated with vegetables, however, do often occur, and there is no reason to believe that such outbreaks could not occur in plant-based meats. In this regard, the applicable science and safety remains to be tested.

Although it remains possible the novelty of these new products will eventually fade, it’s more likely that the trends will continue to bloom. And, as the market continues to expand, think about how to distinguish traditional meat products from these hybrids, or how to process them in ways that may take advantage of emerging consumer expectations and demands. What was once declared as “impossible” may soon become impossible to ignore. NP