From fast food chains like Burger King to local vegetarian restaurants like Superiority Burger, alternative meats have become one of the top restaurant trends in New York City. However, this trend isn’t limited to the east coast. Restaurants across the country are scrambling to meet customers’ growing demands for meatless meats amidst a plant-based patty shortage.
Part of the rise of meatless meat is due to the major gains that Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, two of the plant-based meat industry’s leading competitors, have made in 2019. Earlier this year Impossible Foods launched its Impossible Burger 2.0, a “meatier” plant-based burger known for its “bleeding” that earned the company partnerships with fast food and fast casual restaurants alike. Beyond Meat has also seen increased success since going public in May—while the company’s shares started off at $25 each, they’ve since jumped to $80 a share.
Beyond the Impossible
However, the demand for meat alternatives can’t be contributed to Beyond and Impossible alone. Much like with any other product, consumer demands have created a market where meatless products are able to thrive. In the past, plant-based meats would have been limited to a niche market of vegans and vegetarians. As carnivorous consumers become more concerned with the environmental costs of meat consumption, however, the meatless market is expanding.
As companies like Impossible and Beyond aim to include those looking to cut back on meat in addition to those looking to cut meat out of their diets altogether, they are faced with a new challenge: creating products that are able to compete with the taste and cost of real meat. While Beyond and Impossible have attempted to reach consumers by creating more realistic plant-based alternatives, companies like Memphis Meats are experimenting with the idea of cell-based meats that can provide animal products without reduced environmental impacts.
Cell-based meat is grown from cells (such as stem cells, fat cells, or muscle cells, depending on the type of meat) which are submerged in a growth medium replicating the environment in a particular animal’s body. Though cell-based meats are still in the works, they hold the potential to provide customers with motherless meat free of slaughterhouses, cages, and antibiotics. Motherless meats could also reduce land use, water use, and greenhouse gas emissions.
However, cell-based meats face major challenges. First, labs must work to develop different scaffolding materials for meat growth. “Scaffolding” is the term used to describe the substance that cell-based meat grows off. When producing meats similar to ground beef, which are removed from their scaffolding, the scaffolding must simply be safe enough for growth. When developing fuller muscle meats such as chicken breast, however, the scaffolding must be edible.
Labs are also working to deal with issues of scaling, or the ability to mass-produce a product. As seen with this summer’s Impossible Burger shortage, it can be difficult for newer companies to keep up with growing customer demands.
What This Means for Restaurants
Scaling poses an issue for restaurants in addition to alternative meat companies, as customers who go to a new restaurant with the specific intention of trying a meatless product are unlikely to return if they aren’t able to order the item on their first visit.
That being said, restaurants have much to gain from incorporating alternative meats into their menus. While cell-based meats from Memphis Meats still cost roughly $2,400 a pound to produce, making their price point high, restaurants that can afford to provide these luxuries are sure to draw publicity and business from those looking to be among the first to try motherless meats.
Restaurants unable to afford cell-based meats, on the other hand, can still benefit from the alternative meats trend. Restaurants can attract new clientele through the popularity of products like the Impossible Burger, whether that be a vegetarian restaurant appealing to more carnivorous customers, or a traditional restaurant offering more choices for vegan and vegetarian consumers.