Plant-based meat sales ris­ing – even among ‘flex­i­tar­i­ans’

The Tribune (SLO) - - Business - BY DEE-ANN DURBIN

From soy-based slid­ers to ground lentil sausages, plant-based meat sub­sti­tutes are surg­ing in pop­u­lar­ity. And car­ni­vores – not ve­g­ans or veg­e­tar­i­ans – are among the big­gest con­sumers.

Grow­ing de­mand for healthier, more sus­tain­able food is one rea­son peo­ple are seek­ing plant-based meats. That’s also the rea­son be­hind ris­ing sales of oat milk, cau­li­flower pizza crust and even co­conut oil-based makeup.

“There’s a lot of mes­sag­ing that plants are pow­er­ful. It feels like some­thing that gives you a quick fix, some­thing is re­ally good for you,” said Me­lanie Bartelme, a global food an­a­lyst with the con­sult­ing firm Min­tel.

Bet­ter tech­nol­ogy and mar­ket­ing wiz­ardry is also fu­el­ing sales. Newer star­tups like Im­pos­si­ble Foods and Be­yond Meat – both backed by in­vest­ments from Mi­crosoft founder Bill Gates – have won over car­ni­vores with plant­based prod­ucts that look and taste like meat.

“Meat lovers don’t love the fact that their meat comes from dead an­i­mals. They love it be­cause of the sen­sory plea­sures and the fa­mil­iar­ity,” said Im­pos­si­ble Foods CEO Pat Brown. “If we can pro­vide the things they value and make it from plants, not only will meat lovers be will­ing to buy it, but they will pre­fer to buy it.”

Los An­ge­les-based Be­yond Meat is sold along­side reg­u­lar meat in the gro­cery store, not shuf­fled into freez­ers or nat­u­ral food aisles like tra­di­tional veg­gie burg­ers. It’s also served at juicy burger chains like Carl’s Jr. as well as TGI Friday’s.

Im­pos­si­ble Foods, which is based in Sil­i­con Val­ley, in­tro­duced its burg­ers three years ago at trendy restau­rants like New York’s Mo­mo­fuku Nishi. That led to part­ner­ships with more than 5,000 restau­rants in the U.S. and Asia, in­clud­ing the White Cas­tle chain.

Ear­lier this week, Burger King be­came the first global quick-ser­vice restau­rant to em­brace the Im­pos­si­ble burger. It’s test­ing an Im­pos­si­ble Whop­per this spring at 59 restau­rants in St. Louis.

Burger King al­ready has a veg­gie burger on its menu, a Morn­ingStar Farms patty made from car­rots, mush­room, oats, and other in­gre­di­ents. But Chris Fi­nazzo, pres­i­dent of Burger King’s North Amer­i­can di­vi­sion, said that pri­mar­ily ap­peals to ve­g­ans and veg­e­tar­i­ans.

Burger King’s re­search in­di­cated that 9 per­cent of peo­ple buy­ing plant-based meat are vege­tar­ian, but 90 per­cent are meat eaters look­ing for healthier op­tions.

“There’s a lot of peo­ple who want to eat a burger ev­ery day but don’t nec­es­sar­ily want to eat meat ev­ery day,” Fi­nazzo said.

Bartelme notes that only around 7% of the U.S. pop­u­la­tion is ve­gan or vege­tar­ian and that hasn’t changed sig­nif­i­cantly in re­cent years. In­stead, she says, many peo­ple are be­com­ing “flex­i­tar­i­ans,” pick­ing and choos­ing from var­i­ous di­ets.

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