Is This the Summer of the Veggie Burger?

Monday, July 1, 2019

Hot dogs and hamburgers have been summer barbeque staples for decades. But as more and more people look for healthier, more environmental-friendly options, it might be time to free up some grill space for plant-based alternatives.

According to Ernest Baskin, Ph.D., assistant professor of food marketing, plant-based “meat” options are finally having their moment. While vegetarian substitutes for summertime classics like burgers and hot dogs aren’t anything new, the companies behind them are finally creating alternatives that taste, cook and feel like the real deal.

“In the past, the vegan and vegetarian market was restricted to very specific people following this diet. There was some sort of trade-off,” Baskin says. “These new companies, like Beyond Meat, have figured out a way to diminish that trade-off.”

Beyond Meat, just one of the big names in the plant-based meat substitutes industry, set expectations high with an incredibly successful initial public offering in early May. Impossible Foods, one of Beyond Meat’s competitors, has also been making waves by offering their plant-based burger in popular chains like Burger King and Red Robin.

“The market has now opened up to people who want to cut down on meat. It’s healthier and better for the environment,” Baskin says. “But people still need to be convinced.”

Baskin compares the current meat industry to the milk industry of a few years ago. “Ten years ago, everything was regular milk aside from a small section for soy milk. Today, the dairy section is full of options with different varieties of alternative kinds of milk. This could be what is happening here.”

However, how the major meat brands will react to this shift towards plant-based substitutes still remains to be seen. “Big companies will wait to see how large the potential market is,” Baskin says. “But we can expect to see some hashing out over whether these brands can label themselves as ‘meat.’”

If these alternative meat brands are forced to change their labeling, Baskin says it could mean more education on the consumer’s end — increasing resistance to using a substitute. “The milk industry is currently facing lawsuits over whether or not alternatives are considered ‘milk.’ If consumers think it’s milk, it’s easier to see it as a substitute.” He expects to see something similar as plant-based meat substitutes start to take off.

Although better meat alternatives are making a splash this summer, Baskin expects the move towards vegetarian products to stick around long after the season is over. “The tremendous growth we’ve seen from Beyond Meat shows there is a real future for similar companies.”

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