The New Meat

ALTERNATIVE —  This Jan. 11 photo shows the Impossible Burger, a plant-based burger containing wheat protein, coconut oil and potato protein among it’s ingredients in Bellevue, Nebraska.

By DEE-ANN DURBIN

AP Business Writer

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 plant-based 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% of people buying plant-based meat are vegetarian, but 90% 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.

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