Plant-based steak: Will it be what's for dinner?
- Impossible Foods is starting to work on a plant-based version of steak, according to The Spoon. CEO Patrick Brown said that R&D at the California-based company has been "going at a blazing speed since Day One."
- "[Steak] has huge symbolic value,” Brown said in a video with The Spoon. "If we can make an awesomely delicious world-class steak ... that will be very disruptive not just to the beef industry, but to other sectors of the meat industry." He added that it would be "the most impactful thing we could do."
- This comes just after Impossible's debut of a new formulation of its plant-based Impossible Burger. The next-generation recipe switched out textured wheat protein for soy protein concentrate, so the product has no gluten and no animal hormones or antibiotics.
While Impossible Foods has been focusing on its flagship product — the plant-based Impossible Burger — CEO Patrick Brown says they are developing a plant-based steak that could disrupt the industrial meat industry more than anything else coming out of the company.
But it might take a while. It's hard enough to successfully replicate ground beef without any animal products, but steak is even tougher, from all accounts.
Making a convincing animal-free steak alternative — which means getting the texture and flavor just right — would be a challenging endeavor, particularly because it has "huge symbolic value" to all the meat eaters out there. The marbling on raw steak will be difficult to replicate, and many believe that meat belongs in their diet.
Statistics reflect these sentiments. U.S. beef and poultry production is at an all-time high, driven by demand for beef and pork. And the average per-capita consumption was expected to hit a record high last year of 222.2 pounds of red meat and poultry, according to the Department of Agriculture. With production high, costs to the consumer have stayed low.
For Impossible Foods and its plant-based competitors, meatless alternatives could come at a higher price point than adventurous consumers want to pay. Two patties of the popular Beyond Burger — made by California-based Beyond Foods — has sold for $5.99 at Kroger, about twice the price of real beef burgers. The Impossible Burger costs a lot more than that since it's primarily sold at restaurants; however, its sliders are available at White Castle outlets for $1.99 each. The Impossible Burger's price tag could adjust downward this year, though, since the company plans to enter the retail market.
Despite the obstacles to developing a convincing meatless steak, the company's mission statement may be the main impetus driving whatever success it achieves in this area. Impossible Foods says on its website that while some of its most "magical moments" occur around meat consumption, "using animals to make meat is a prehistoric and destructive technology." Consumers connect with that messaging, and plant-based meat is expected to be an increasingly popular trend this year.
The company has so far attracted an impressive level of funding to help make this mission a reality. According to Crunchbase, several high-profile investors have put a total of $387.5 million into the company over seven rounds. They include Bill Gates, Google Ventures, Khosla Ventures, Viking Global Investors, Trinity Capital Investment, UBS, Horizons Ventures, GV, Temasek Holdings and Sailing Capital. Although there will be many R&D challenges with perfecting this new steak, if Impossible Foods can get it right, it could be the next big plant-based meat.