As we head into grilling season, what gets thrown on the BBQ might look a little different this year. While plant-based eating is certainly not a new trend in 2019, it is becoming increasingly more mainstream – particularly when it comes to the format we know and love: burgers.
HOW SIGNIFICANT IS THE SHIFT?
Many factors are contributing to the growth in the overarching trend of plant-based eating: health/nutrition benefits; animal welfare; environmental conservation, to name a few. Add to that, recent reporting that shows 61% of U.S. adults want more protein in their diets and it is no surprise that plant-based protein is the #1 growing category in NPD’s SupplyTrack research.
(Plant-Based Proteins; The NPD Group/SupplyTrack)
Based on independent and micro chain reporting, plant-based burgers are the largest product type within the category. In many cases they look like, taste like, and “bleed” like meat. With descriptors like “Meat Lovers Vegan Burger”, the target audience is clearly a broader base than those trying to get away from the experience of animal protein. All of these factors contribute to the rapidly evolving landscape of beef alternatives.
WHO’S MAKING IT INTERESTING?
This continues to be a topic we see and read about on a daily basis in the industry. So what – and who – makes it interesting? The innovation in the space is interesting. Impossible Burger, the burger that goes directly after meat lovers and recently launched a new recipe that “rivals beef in the attributes that matter the most: nutrition, versatility and, of course, taste”. Truly focused on delivering a beef alternative that surpasses the “real thing” in likability, it originated in an effort to reduce overall global footprint. Beyond Burger, the pea-protein based burger that is free of GMOs, soy and gluten, rivals beef in the restaurant and retail scene. The brand has significant public spotlight as it grows its global footprint (now available in 700 stores in the Netherlands) and announced it will go public later this week. Aside from these two leaders, there are many other alternatives – many coming from brands that have been in the “vegetarian” world for some time: Morning Star Farms’ “Meat Lovers Vegan Burger” and Lightlife’s plant-based burger with pea protein and beet powder.
There are 5 markets that make up 1/3 of the plant-based beef burgers in the U.S.: LA, Chicago, Atlanta, New York and Boston. 
What makes this interesting is how operators and consumers are responding to these new offerings. I recently attended a panel of three different operators, each offering a different version of a meat-alternative burger (Impossible Burger, Beyond Burger, and a blended mushroom/beef burger). In their own way, each operator highlighted that there is a lot of room for trial and error when it comes to recipes, messaging and overall mainstream consumer education.
“2019 US FOOD SUMMIT.” NPD Group. April, 2019.
 “The Impossible Burger.” Impossible Foods. April 2019.
 “Vegan Unicorn Beyond Meat Enters Dutch Super Markets With Its Plant-Based Burger.” Banis, Davide. Forbes. April 2019.