Vegetarians hunting for animal product substitutes have long had an array of products to choose from, but it’s only recently that companies have started offering fake meat and eggs that supposedly taste exactly like the real thing. Much of the recent innovation in the plant-based animal product substitute world has come from Silicon Valley companies (or at least has been funded by Silicon Valley investors).
Not so with Neat, a Lancaster, Penn.-based startup that sells the only soy-free and gluten-free meat replacement products on the market (that will change soon, though–Beyond Meat is releasing a pea protein-based beef crumble product in February).
While Beyond Meat’s products were created by scientists in a lab, Neat’s beef crumble products came out of Laura Lapp’s kitchen, where the longtime vegetarian and former neuroscientist was trying to come up with a meat-free option that she could enjoy with her kids and husband, a meat-eater on a quest to lower his cholesterol. “I was looking for a protein replacement, also,” she says. After mixing pecans, eggs, and a handful of other ingredients, and then pan-frying the whole thing, Lapp thought she had her perfect product.
But her big breakthrough came a little later, when she created shelf-stable versions of her recipe, including an Italian mix and a Mexican mix (all products contain pecans, garbanzo beans, and whole grain oats.) Her husband Phil, the former director of corporate sales for Auntie Anne’s pretzels, quit his day job and joined Neat, which officially incorporated in 2012.
“Mimicking the texture of ground beef was not a priority, but when people try Neat, they have that experience–it’s so close to the experience they have when they eat seasoned ground beef,” says Lapp. I tried some of Neat’s mixes, and found it difficult to tell whether they actually taste like ground beef–I don’t eat meat at this point in my life, and even when I did, I was never a huge fan of ground beef.
At the very least, Neat’s products are tasty. Whether they match up to Beyond Meat’s fake ground beef remain to be seen–Beyond Meat’s fake chicken has a texture so similar to the real thing that it’s a little creepy, and I imagine the beef product will be similar.
Neat’s products are sold online, in select Whole Foods locations, natural food stores, and at farmer’s markets in Pennsylvania.
“Meat replacements are a $600 million market. We don’t have anything against meat, we’re just trying to make a really good replacement,” explains Phil Lapp, who was in the middle of eating a Neat sandwich when he took my phone call. “The hole that we saw [in the market] was that the meat replacement out there were full of chemicals, and that wasn’t something we wanted to make a concession on.”