In the late 2010s, Beyond Meat ushered in the next generation of plant-based meat products, winning over consumers with its new and improved version of the veggie burger. Then he wowed Wall Street in 2019 when he got the most successful stock market debut in over a decade.
But 2022 hasn’t been so kind to the plant-based meat giant: Amid decrease of sales, Beyond Meat recently announced that it would lay off 19% of its staff by the end of the year. His stock price has fallen and he recently told his shareholders that he plans to generate less revenue this year than initially expected, citing increased competition and high inflation.
In response, Beyond Meat is doing what all food companies do when they risk losing market share: they’re offering something new: plant-based steak.
It’s not a rib eye or a T-bone, but steak “tricks” – the kind of cuts of meat meant to be used, say, in a taco, stir-fry or sandwich. Although a number of smaller startups have steak-like products on the market, this is the first that will be widely available and one of the few products using “whole muscle” technology (more on that later) .
Last week, a few Vox colleagues and I – a mix of vegetarians and omnivores – had the opportunity to try it in the form of a plant-based Philly cheesesteak (with dairy-free cheese ), prepared by a DC-area chef. The verdict: Delicious with differing opinions on the texture and how close it tastes to a cow steak.
“It’s strange,” said Libby Nelson, editor-in-chief of Vox. “My parents are from Nebraska, where they have a lot of beef, and I have a pretty high bar. The steak seems like the one thing I would ever want to get artificial on… but my first thoughts are very pro – they did a good job with it. She said if she hadn’t been told it was meatless, she might have assumed it was real beef.
Li Zhou, a political reporter, was spongy about the texture: “I feel like it lacks a bit of toughness that you would get from steak.” Keren Landman, a health and science journalist, agreed, although she liked the “little fibers” in every bite.
Christian Paz, political journalist, added: “I also like the feeling that there were little pockets of fat spread in it, which I really appreciate in a regular meat sandwich – the feeling that it’s not not just lean meat., that there is a difference in texture inside when you bite into a piece.
Jonquilyn Hill, a podcast producer, said that wasn’t enough to make her believe it was real beef: “It’s very good, but as a meat eater, it’s is obviously not meat. I think it’s the texture. When I think of steak, I always think of sitting down and using a knife and fork. …It’s more like the meat used for Philly cheesesteaks that you would get from the freezer section.
The reactions reminded me how expectations can change how we feel about food. Cooked alone, does vegetable meat taste exactly the same as the animal meat it is supposed to reproduce? Almost never. But when used in a dish with oil, spices and vegetables, and put on a bed of rice or between two pieces of bread, it’s much harder to tell if it’s herbal. or animals, hence Nelson’s “strange” comment.
Much of our perceptions of food are based on how we expect it to taste, which is why people – even professional cooks – can be easily deceived thinking they are eating animal meat when it’s really vegetable meat. The perceived inferiority of plant-based meat might be a greater impediment to its growth than its actual taste. (That, and the price — on Instacart, a 10-ounce package of Beyond Meat steak tips is $7.99, or 80 cents an ounce, compared to 69 cents an ounce for real low-cost steak tips — a cost difference of 16 percent.)
Starting today, Beyond Meat Steak Tips will be available at over 5,000 Kroger and Walmart stores as well as select Albertsons (Safeway, Vons, Jewel-Osco) and Ahold (Giant, Stop & Shop) stores. . It’s also available for food distributors, so it could soon appear on restaurant menus.
Since beef is by far the most carbon-intensive foods, any market share that Beyond Meat steak tips can grab will be a win for the environment – and a steak made with bean protein and wheat gluten is clearly a win for animal welfare. When it comes to nutrition, there is a long-standing debate on whether plant-based meat is healthier than animal meat, but Beyond Meat steak tips provide nutrition comparable to the real thing. Beyond Meat scores a point for having zero cholesterol but loses a point for high sodium: 300 milligrams for the 55 milligrams of sodium in a 3-ounce serving of Steak-Umm Sliced Steaks.
What separates steak tips from most plant-based meat offerings is that they’re made with “whole muscle” technology, which some in the field call the “Holy Grail» vegetable meat. Most of the plant-based meat you’ve tried is made using “chop and shape” technology – basically taking a bunch of ingredients and mashing them together, which is why most products industry mimic ground meat in burgers or nuggets. Whole muscle, on the other hand, is meant to mimic whole cuts of meat like steak, giving it the more fibrous texture that some of my colleagues have noticed.
Can the plant category catch fire again?
In many corners of the media, the excitement over the dawn of plant-based meat has quail in the predictions of his disappearance — or at least there is one niche.
There’s no doubt that plant-based meat struggles in drive-thru. Numerous trials of plant-based meats in fast food franchises and restaurant chains have flopped, including some from Beyond Meat. And some of the world’s largest traditional meat companies have lost faith: JBS is close its factory manufacturing plant in Colorado, while Maple Leaf Foods downsizing its vegetarian activities.
But there are also bright spots. Gardein’s and The impossible foods retail sales are up and food conglomerates Nestle and ADM are more bullish on plant-based foods than ever, saying consumer demand and growth potential remain strong. Despite several failed vegan fast food launches in the United States, such as McDonald’s Beyond Meat McPlant and Impossible Foods sausage topping at Little Caesarsthe industry still believes in its promise: Taco Bell is testing a carne asada product with Beyond Meat, while Burger King is testing an Impossible chicken sandwich.
The real concern is with grocery store sales data. Sales of plant-based meat in American supermarkets are indeed stagnating, with no sales growth in 2021 and a slight decline from September 2021 to September 2022, according to an analysis of IRI data by market research firm 210 Analytics. The number of units sold decreased by 11% during this period.
But the context is critical: Grocery sales of plant-based meat have surged 45 percent in 2020 as consumers panic and buy groceries and cook far more than normal. The slowdown in 2021 and 2022 is not necessarily stagnation – it just wasn’t possible to sustain that 45% growth. Longer term, grocery store sales of plant-based meat have increased 19 percent from 2019 to 2021.
Beyond meat, in particular, blame its performance over increased competition. When it launched, it had much of the plant-based meat aisle to itself; this is no longer the case. High inflation is another culprit, which may encourage consumers to cut costs by switching back to animal meat. It tends to be cheaper than plant-based meat due, in large part, to the simple fact that the price of real meat is artificially low due to a lack labor, environmental and animal welfare regulations.
Anne-Marie Roerink of 210 Analytics told me via email that the lack of repeat purchases could be an even bigger problem for the plant-based meat industry: “[T]Willingness to try plant-based meat has been very high for years, but we’re not really seeing a second or especially a third rate of purchase. And that’s where most of the pressure comes from.
If the stagnation continues, the sector will be in trouble, but year-over-year sales data for a slice of the market, especially in the midst of a pandemic, can only tell us a lot about the long-term health of a booming industry.
And the United States is not the center of the meatless universe. While the McPlant (made with Beyond Meat) failed in the United States, McDonald’s said he is “delighted” with customer demand for the McPlant in Ireland, where it is a permanent menu item (as well as at McDonald’s in the UK, Austria and the Netherlands). Beyond Meat also offers permanent menu items with Pizza Hut in Canada, Europe and Latin America.
According to Innova Market Insights, a market research firm, sales of plant-based meat are expected to grow by 10-15% in the UK, Germany, China and the Netherlands from 2021 to 2023.
Beyond Meat may hold a niche in the meatless category since it will have the only widely available plant-based steak product, but it may soon have some serious competition, as Impossible Foods says a plant-based filet mignon is on my way.
While the Beyond Meat steak tips won’t satisfy cravings for a big chunk of steak, a Beyond Meat rib eye or T-bone may be in the works. “From the beginning, we’ve said that if you walk into a butcher shop or go to the meat section of a retail store, whatever you see there, [we have] projects we are working on or planning to work on,” says Dariush Ajami, chief innovation officer at Beyond Meat.
Roerink says such innovation will be key to maintaining and growing market share: “I think we’re way too early in the plant-based meat innovation cycle to declare them over, as I see in many headlines. . There are still many new players, products and ingredients entering this space and, above all, [there’s a] awareness that current items need to offer a better list of cleaner ingredients and better taste. This means that these companies will continue to innovate.
And given America’s endless thirst for novelty in the grocery and fast food aisles, they better.