Impossible Foods’ beef replacement, for example, famously behaves like ground meat and can be served in a number of applications, including taco crumbles, meat sauce, and, of course, burger patties. It’s gluten-free, halal, kosher, and cholesterol-free, and made from soy protein, potato protein, coconut fat, sunflower oil, and hem, which is short for hemoglobin, something that is found in all living things, including meat. Impossible produces hem from a plant source.
And unlike the veggie and black bean patties of old, it’s a movement designed to target diners searching for meat substitutes, not necessarily vegetarians or vegans. Darren Seifer, NPD food and beverage industry analyst, told QSR that 90 percent of consumers are neither vegetarians nor vegans, but instead identify as flexitarians. These guests, the majority of which are millennials, followed by Gen X, per The NPD Group, are concerned with health and want to increase protein while also cutting down on meat.
Also, according to NPD in a July report for the year-long period ending in May 2019, quick-service restaurant orders for plant-based burgers and sandwiches rose 10 percent over the prior year to 228 million servings.
But notably and this is where the real distinction is drawn, beef burger buyers represented the majority of orders—95 percent of those who tried plant-based also made a regular beef burger purchase within the past year. Beef burger buyers, who purchased beef burgers at quick-serves an average of 18 times in the year ending April 2019, purchased plant-based options two times in the period. (As a side, 6.4 billion beef burgers were ordered at quick serves in the same sample, a roughly flat year-over-year figure).
Vegetarians and vegans are contributing to the growth in plant-based, but still represent a single-digit percentage of the U.S. population and haven’t been “primary contributors,” to movement. Moreover, 18 percent of the overall adult population said they were simply trying to get more plant-based foods into their diets, NPD said.
Seifer noted that plant-based burgers also address social concerns, which is a big argument in the lab-grown meat movement’s corner.
In Bareburger’s case, Pelekanos says, the brand witnessed more and more guests looking for vegan food. And not in small doses. “They wanted the full package,” he says. So, while Impossible and Beyond didn’t intend for their food to get buried in a corner with a vegan label on it, Bareburger saw opportunity in the reverse direction: They’d fly a vegan flag for those looking for it.