Beyond Meat doesn’t like the term “fake meat.” That’s because, when considering what makes meat meat, its plant-based versions contain all the same stuff—minus the cholesterol. “If you think about it from a composition perspective, it really is amino acids, lipids, trace minerals, vitamins, and water,” says Ethan Brown, Beyond Meat’s CEO. “That’s kind of what meat is. All of those things are available in plants.”
Brown talked to Fast Company on this week’s World Changing Ideas podcast about how, because of that comparison, Beyond Meat is in direct competition with animal meat, and aiming to eat up market share while mitigating some of the environmental and health concerns. That means the company’s target consumers are carnivores, which in turn means that the products should replicate the taste of animal meat. Brown believes the company is only three or four years away from making the taste and texture “indistinguishable”—at which point people will “feel there is no trade-off from a sensory experience between having our products and animal protein.”
So, what better way to kick off the podcast than for a meat eater like myself to taste-test the latest Beyond Meat burger patty, the 3.0, which contains less saturated fat and calories than the previous iteration and a supposedly meatier flavor. “It’s really around continuing to drive that taste more toward a neutral beef taste,” Brown says. You can hear me chomp my way through a freshly delivered cheeseburger and lend my review—if you can tolerate the gnawing noises.
If carnivores are to transition seamlessly to plant-based meat and still enjoy it like “a burger after a ball game, or having a delicious sausage for breakfast,” it may also require a cultural shift. Brown discusses how, from the age of Dickens, a meatless diet was viewed as a lower-class one. “We tried to attack that dead-on, that notion that you were going to be weaker or somehow inferior,” he says. “In fact, it’s the opposite. This is a really clean delivery of amino acids and healthy fats.” Beyond Meat has signed up athlete ambassadors, such as Chris Paul and DeAndre Hopkins, to get out that health message, in the same mold as the iconic “Got Milk?” campaign of the ’90s.
The push is not about shaming people for their choices, Brown says; meat was a critical part of our evolution as humans. But technology can now move us in a more sustainable direction. And when the taste gets there, he hopes to see not just a flexitarian, on-and-off transition, but a full one. He uses a familiar tech analogy: phones. “You didn’t say, ‘Well, I’m only going to have a landline a couple of days a week,'” he says. “We just went to the mobile phone, because of better technology.”
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