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This is the beginning of the end of the beef industry



There is a well-known Gandhi aphorism about how movements proceed: "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." It was actually written by the Workshop on Nonviolence Institute as a summary of Gandhi's philosophy, but nevertheless it is remarkable how often it accurately describes the evolution of causes, from legal cannabis to gay marriage. I've been thinking about that quote since I wrote my first piece about plant-based meat (or all meat, as I like to call it) for Outside in 2014. Then we were stuck in the "Laughter of You" scene. Beyond Meat, the first of Silicon Valley startups that used advanced technology to produce extremely meat-like burgers, had been ignored for the first few years, but in 201

4 it released the Beast Burger, which was treated by the press and the audience as a slightly abhorrent curiosity. What was this? Will anyone actually eat it? Ewwww.

This product was not very good – I compared it to Salisbury beef – and when Ethan Brown, the founder of Beyond Meat, announced his intention to end livestock production, you could almost hear the National Cattlemen's Beef Association laugh in the background.

But I didn't laugh. I knew it would continue to improve, and beef would not. And I thought the bar was pretty low. Sure, beef is good, but ground beef makes up 60 percent of beef sales, and most of it is more Salisbury than salt, a greasy vehicle for the yummy stuff: ketchup, mushrooms, pickles, bacon, sriracha mayo. I knew I wouldn't resist if my central puck came from a plant as long as it chewed properly and tasted right. I suspected others might feel the same way.

In the following years, Beyond Meat joined forces with Impossible Foods, a more sophisticated startup with even more venture capital. The impossible burger was far better than the Salisbury steak. All the cool cats started serving it, from David Chang in New York to Traci Des Jardins in San Francisco. My conviction grew.

Part of the appeal to the new burgers is their smaller environmental footprint. Beef is the most wasted food on the planet. Cows are not optimized for making meat; they are optimized to be cows. It takes 36,000 calories of feed to produce 1,000 calories of beef. In the process, it uses more than 430 liters of water and 1,500 square meters of land, generating almost ten kilos of greenhouse gas emissions. In comparison, an impoverished burger uses 87 percent less water, 96 percent less land and produces 89 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions. Beyond Meat's footprint is the same.

Yes, a good argument can be made that small-scale, grass-fed beef production (in places that can grow plenty of grass) has a very different ethical and environmental landscape, but unfortunately it is just not a significant factor. America gets 97 percent of beef. And feedlots are not recoverable.


In 2018, sales of both Beyond Burger and Impossible Burger increased, and companies began to collect restaurant chain deals. Beyond Meat got Carl & # 39; s Jr. and A&W (as well as supermarket chains such as Food Lion and Safeway), while Impossible got White Castle.

I tracked down a White Castle just after Impossible Slider arrived in the spring of 2018. I & # 39; I've never been to a white castle, so I ordered an impossible slider and a regular slider. The impossible was … okay. About what you expect. White Castle steams all the meat, which is hard to come by, but with a lot of cheese it went down easily.

The usual slider, on the other hand, was gruesome. I peeled back the pasty bun and stared at the fetid shingles inside. It was shaking thin and sooty. It made the Impossible Slider look lush and juicy. The bar for fast food burgers is even lower than I thought. No one will miss these dirty little brown things when they're gone.

Perhaps this explains why the chains attach themselves to plant-based burgers as if they were life rings. White Castle originally tested Impossible Slider in just a few locations in New York, New Jersey and Chicago in April 2018. It was such a hit that the company quickly expanded the program to all 380 outlets. "People are coming back for it again and again," said White House Vice President Jamie Richardson with a hint of astonishment.

They also return to Del Taco, which launched a Beaco taco in April. In two months, it had sold two million, one of the most successful product launches in its history, so it decided to add Beyond Meat burritos as well.

And then it's Burger King. The second largest fast food chain in the world rattled the cage of beef by testing an Impossible Whopper in St. Louis in April. The result of foot traffic was so strong that Burger King decided to serve Impossible Whopper at all 7,200 restaurants, marking the moment when all the meat stopped being everything.

It was enough to make the meat industry turn its attention. "A year and a half ago, this was not on my radar whatsoever," Mark Dopp, director of regulatory affairs for the North American Meat Association, told The New York Times . "Suddenly, this is starting to get closer."

The strategy, predictably but pathetically, was to participate in an ontological battle for the flesh itself meat . Large beef was successful in a Missouri law banning all products from identifying themselves as meat unless "derived from harvested livestock or poultry." .) Similar labeling laws have passed or are pending in dozens of states, most of them major ranching.

Clearly, none of this has stemmed from the increase of all meat. But it got me thinking about Gandhi (a hard vegetarian, FYI). They ignored, laughed, and now they fought .

This, I thought, could only win.

This year is shaped to be the point of inflection when it becomes obvious to everyone else. Beyond Meat's products are in 15,000 grocery stores in the United States, and sales are more than doubled each year. On May 2, it held its IPO, offering shares at $ 25, which turned out to be a wild underestimation of what investors thought the company was worth. It immediately jumped to $ 46 and closed the day at $ 65.75. That one-day pop of 163 percent was one of the best in decades, hurting such 2019 IPOs as Lyft (21 percent) and Pinterest (25 percent), not to mention Uber (negative 3 percent). In the following days, it continued to rip and climb over $ 150, where it has stayed. The market currently estimates Beyond Meat worth close to $ 10 billion.

Not to be outdone, the same month Impossible Foods raised a further $ 300 million from private investors (for a current sum of $ 740 million and a $ 2 billion valuation) and announced that it would join Beyond Meat in US grocery stores later this year. These companies are no longer small mammals that scurry around the feet of big cattle dinosaurs. And they are geared up for an epic battle against the head.


Both Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods recently released new, improved versions of the meat. This past week I have been to little else. It feels great. Both have the same amount of protein as ground beef (about 20 grams per quarter pound serving) and less fat. They are plant-based and also provide a healthy fiber. Both get their blur from coconut oil.

But the essence of each formula is very different. Beyond uses pea protein, while Impossible uses soy. Beyond gets its bloody color from beet juice; Impossible uses hem – the same molecule that turns our blood red – to achieve the meaty color and taste. This is the killer app. Beef gets its beef from heme. When you cook hem, it produces the peculiar, salty, metallic taste of meat. Since heme is normally found in blood, no veggie cookie has ever used it. Soy plants make microscopic amounts of it, but not enough to ever use. Impossible Food's breakthrough was to genetically engineer yeast to produce soybean in a tank, like beer. This GMO process is a deal for some people, but it makes all the difference. The Impossible Burger is incredible, Beyond Burger is just passable.

The Beyond Burger comes as two predefined ounce chops (wrapped in a plastic tray wrapped in more plastic – turn one). They don’t quite pass like hamburgers. They are too wet and too pink. They look almost like finely ground salmon burgers. They cook to a satisfactory toothiness on either a grill or a thank you, but there is an unexplained cellulose quality on texture. (This is even more pronounced in Beyond Sausage.) The flavor is also a bit off. It's a hint of fake smoke and an earthy one I guess comes from the beet juice. (My wife wants to say it's more than a little; she has to leave the room when Beyond Burger is cooking. But she hates beets.) It's not an unpleasant experience, just don't expect the burger gas you get from a 15-pound USDA prime.

However, Impossible Foods has delivered burger gas after burger gas. It's shiny Nobel Prize good. Not only does it taste like ground beef, it looks and works like it too. It's really plug and play.

It did not vote for the previous version. When I first wrote about Impossible Foods three years ago, I had to beg the company to send me a patty. It was hesitant. At that time, the burger was fussy. It didn't work well on a grill, so you had to cook it just right. The company got me to do a Skype tutorial first, and when the micropattern came in a refrigerator, with a special bun and sauce, it was accompanied by pages of printed instructions. The burger was good, certainly the most meat-like plant patty at the time, but it still tasted like a small product – a little cleaner, a little less decadent, a bit like filler.

This time, when I asked the company to send me a burger, a five-pound meat block – clearly what it normally sends to food companies – arrived right outside the door. No instructions, no hand holding. It looked identical to ground beef, so that's how I treated it. And so it was. I made sliders, kebabs, nachos, chili, Bolognese sauce, even a small tartare (note: the company frowns hard on this).

If I'm being honest, I find that I prefer it to real beef. It is rich and juicy, more tasty, but still somehow cleaner and less itchy. Now when I go back to regular beef, I notice a peep of the charnel house in it, something musty and gray that I don't like and don't need.


In the coming years, many others expect omnivores. to have similar epiphanies. Impossible Foods has conducted more than 26,000 blind taste tests on its burger, which is on track to surpass ground beef in these tests in the near future. What happens then? Impossible has been laser focused on making the perfect simulacrum of ground beef. But why? The cow never had a lock on gastronomic perfection. That was just the best we could do given the limitations of the natural material. Fire lights were fine until power came along. Then things got really interesting.

Look for something that can happen to altar meat. Currently, it is necessary to make people comfortable with what is known, as Steve Jobs loaded the early iPhones with cheat filters and wood grain. But when people stop expecting burgers to refer to a blemish, the brakes on deliciousness will be released.

This will be a generation. All change is. Most Baby Boomers will stick with the beef, to the point where their dentures can't take it anymore. But Gen Z will find things as embarrassing as Def Leppard and Dad jeans.

As this shift accelerates, the beef industry will lose its last advantage – price. Most deals with Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are about a burger being more expensive. But it is inherently cheaper to make a burger directly out of plants than it is to feed the plants to an animal first. Beef is currently cheaper due to scale. Large food companies can negotiate vastly reduced feed prices, and giant factories and supply chains are much more efficient to operate.

But the playing field levels quickly. Last week, Dunkin's announced a new Beyond Sausage breakfast sandwich that will only be 14 cents more than the meat version. But more than anything other than meat or impossible food has achieved, the true death knell for the cat men is how the ordinary food industry has embraced all meat. Whole Foods has just announced that they will start selling burgers from British-based startup Meatless Farm in all stores. Nestlé launches its Awesome Burger this fall. Tyson Foods, the United States' largest meat producer, just debuted its own plant-based nuggets, with more products coming. Tyson CEO Noel White said he expects Tyson "to be the market leader in alternative protein, which is experiencing double-digit growth and could one day be a billionaire for our company."

If that quote isn't enough to send chills down the spine to any meat producer, try this from Perdue Farms chairman Jim Perdue: “Our vision is to be the most reliable name in premium protein. It does not say premium meat protein, only premium protein. That's what consumers need. "

And this is where these companies want to go. Beef is a headache. There is a lot of baggage to worry about: antibiotic resistance, E. coli outbreaks, animal welfare, climate change. It's the kind of icky biological variable that American America would like to leave behind – and as soon as beef becomes less profitable, it will.

Recent estimates suggest that 60 percent of the meat eaten in 2040 will be everything, a number I think may be too conservative. An estimated 95 percent of the population who buy alto burgers are meat eaters. This is not about making vegetarians happy. It's not even about climate change. This is a fight for the flame-chopped soul of the United States. Meat is breaking free from its precious past. Since traditional meat companies embrace all the meat with a heartfelt desire for the just converted, making it cheap and ubiquitous, it is unclear whether Beyond Meat or Impossible Foods can survive the fed frenzy (though Impossle's patents on its core IP can help ), but at least they will be able to comfort themselves with a modern impression of Gandhi's wisdom:

First, they ignore you.
Then they laugh at you.
Then they sue you.
So they're trying to buy you.
Then they copy you.
Then they steal your shelf space.
Then they put you out of business.
Then you've won.


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