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There’s a new meatless Beyond Burger. It tastes even more like meat.

Beyond Meat’s latest alternative meat product hits grocery stores this week.

Courtesy of Beyond Burger
Kelsey Piper is a senior writer at Future Perfect, Vox’s effective altruism-inspired section on the world’s biggest challenges. She explores wide-ranging topics like climate change, artificial intelligence, vaccine development, and factory farms, and also writes the Future Perfect newsletter.

There’s a new Beyond Burger hitting supermarket shelves — one that the company promises is “even meatier.”

It’s the latest product offering from Beyond Meat, the fast-growing producer of plant-based meat products that are meant to taste just like meat and provide consumers with a more sustainable, animal-friendly alternative.

The new burgers arrive in grocery stores starting this week, and will be available nationwide by the end of June. There are three major changes between the current burgers, which first came out in 2016, and the updated Beyond Burger. First, the new burger starts out red and changes colors (to brown) as it cooks, thanks to an extract from apples. This doesn’t affect the flavor much, but presentation still makes a big difference to consumers.

Second, Beyond Meat has changed up the ingredients to make the burger a more complete protein source — the new recipe uses a “blend of pea, mung bean and rice proteins,” a company spokesperson told me in an email. The mung bean and rice proteins are a new addition, aimed at giving the product more fiber and making its protein content more similar to that of a beef burger.

Third — and most notable from the package — Beyond Meat has added “marbling,” or those pockets of fat that are often credited for meat’s juiciness and flavor.

I tried out the improved burger, and, while I’m very much not a burger connoisseur, it’s tasty and flavorful. I’m a vegetarian, so I recruited a meat-eating friend to the taste test for an opinion as well. He approved too. One of my biggest complaints about past Beyond Burgers was that they were a little dry and bland, and the marbling seems to help with that.

The result is a burger that Beyond Meat hopes will compete both with conventional meat products and with the company’s fast-growing competitor Impossible Foods, which has landed coveted distribution deals with Qdoba and Burger King, and which, like Beyond Meat, aims to convince consumers that meat products can be just as tasty if no animals are involved.

It’s been a good few years for Beyond Meat. National chains including Del Taco, Carl’s Jr., and TGI Friday’s have started carrying their products. They’ve also found their way onto grocery store shelves at Whole Foods, Kroger, and Target. In total, Beyond Meat says its products are available in more than 35,000 outlets, from hotels and college campuses to grocery stores and sports stadiums. Sales have been growing fast — last year, the company reported revenues of $87.9 million, up from $32.6 million in 2017.

When Beyond Meat went public at the beginning of May, its stock soared — from an IPO price of $25 to a current price of $167, or a 670 percent increase. Beyond Meat means to use the money it raised in its IPO to expand its supply chain and meet the increasing demand for its products, chair Seth Goldman told me at the time.

But another priority for the company has been improving the taste and nutrition profile of its burgers. There’s a lot of demand for a product that tastes just like meat, and a lot less demand for one that tastes kinda like meat. And by the accounts of many food reviewers, Impossible Foods was ahead of Beyond Meat on this front, with burgers that tasted just a tiny bit meatier. (Other reviewers have favored Beyond.) The new Beyond Burger is the latest turn in this meatless competition.

Plant-based meat alternatives are getting big

There’s a lot wrong with our food system. Producing meat by raising animals on factory farms produces tons of greenhouse gases, and many analysts think we can’t tackle climate change without tackling the enormous emissions that go into agriculture. Animals in close quarters are fed low-dose antibiotics constantly so they don’t make one another sick, which contributes to antibiotic resistance, a huge threat on the horizon for public health. And animals on factory farms are routinely subjected to intense cruelty and conditions that disgust the average American consumer.

That’s what inspired people to start working on meat alternatives — and it may be what’s inspiring the consumer enthusiasm that has buoyed them in recent years. Products like veggie burgers, fake chicken, and soy and almond milk are growing in popularity and market share — and even better, they’re getting tastier and harder to distinguish from animal products.

New breakthroughs in food science have made it easier to imitate the flavor and texture of real meat. While early veggie burgers were almost exclusively purchased by vegetarians, Brown says that 93 percent of Beyond Meat customers buy regular meat too, suggesting the company has succeeded at making something that appeals to meat eaters.

Beyond Meat was among the pioneers of this new generation of plant-based meat, which aimed to replace bean-based veggie burgers marketed mostly to vegans. The company’s commitment to refining its products and improving the taste have been crucial on that front — consumers who also eat meat are fairly picky about the flavor of plant-based products.

The rest of the plant-based meat industry has been thriving too. Burger King has been expanding its Impossible Whoppers to stores across the country. Qdoba announced last month that it would serve Beyond Meat competitor Impossible Foods. The industry giants Tyson and Purdue are pursuing their own plant-based product lines. A few years ago, the Impossible Burger was available in a handful of restaurants; now it can be found in more than 5,000.

“There’s a sense that there’s a movement going on that’s much bigger than any one company,” Brown told Vox last month.

The interesting thing about that movement is that plant-based meats don’t have to displace all animal meats in order to make a big difference. Every burger replaced with a Beyond Burger has an impact on CO2 emissions, demand for factory farming, and need for antibiotics. The more the plant-based meat industry grows, the more those impacts will be visible — and that might, in turn, fuel more interest in plant-based meats.

Beyond Burger’s team doesn’t just believe they’ve found a niche — they say they’ve figured out the “Future of Protein.” The new burger certainly seems to represent one more step toward that future.

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