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Fake it until you make it: Meatless burgers achieving inroads in production and popularity

Meatless burgers, specifically Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods burgers, have become widely available nowadays, including here in Spokane, and the onslaught of plant-based products doesn’t look to be slowing down any time soon:

Tyson Foods, one of the largest producers of beef, pork and poultry, announced plans this month to offer vegan products this summer.

Burger King recently announced that its Impossible Whopper, a patty produced with no meat, has been introduced in a trial run to acclaim at its nearly 60 outlets in the St. Louis area, and the fast-food company plans to make it available at its 7,200 outlets by the end of the year.

The meatless patty in the Impossible Whopper at Burger King is in partnership with startup company Impossible Foods, which supplies products created with heme, a protein from soybean roots that is similar to the texture of meat.

Not to be outdone, McDonald’s this month introduced the Big Vegan TS, a vegan burger created by Nestle, in Germany, one of its five leading global markets. McDonald’s in 2017 introduced a McVegan burger made with a soy patty in Finland and Sweden.

Red Robin Gourmet Burgers and Brews on April 1 – no joke – made Impossible Burgers available at its 570-plus national outlets. Other meatless options have been available at Red Robin for more than two decades.

Del Taco announced in April that it is partnering with Southern California startup Beyond Meat, of Beyond Burger fame, to offer Beyond meatless tacos.

Qdoba announced in April that its 730 locations will sell a plant-based meat alternative by startup Impossible Foods, whose Impossible Burgers have been popular since launching in 2016.

Impossible menu items also are available, per Impossible’s website, at Rusty Moose Bar & Grill (9105 W. U.S. Highway 2); Anthony’s at Spokane Falls (510 N. Lincoln St.); Globe Bar & Kitchen (204 N. Division St.); Fatburger (1706 W. Francis Ave.); Cascadia Public House (6314 N. Ash St.); Lost Boys’ Garage Bar & Grill (6325 N. Wall St.); Paddy’s Sports Bar (601 W. Appleway Ave., Coeur d’Alene); and the Settlement Kitchen + Craft Tavern (5634 U.S. Highway 2, Priest River).

KFC, TGI Fridays, Carls Jr., A&W, Dunkin’ Donuts, White Castle, Walmart China and Bareburger, which is mostly on the East Coast and in Ohio, also are on board with meatless-product offerings.

And it’s not just national chains that are offering plant-based options. The new Rüt Bar & Kitchen (901 W. 14th Ave., in the former Picabu Neighborhood Bistro location) on the South Hill has Impossible and Beyond burgers on the menu, and the Impossible Burger at Red Robin (725 W. Main Ave.), loaded with low-calorie vegetables, was met with praise during a group lunch last Friday.

“Customers have been enjoying the Impossible and Beyond burgers. They’re two of our top-sellers,” said Josh Lorenzen, co-founder of Rüt, on Monday. “Some of them can’t taste the difference, that it’s a meat substitute. They’ve been very happy with the burgers.”

Spokane restaurants have offered meatless options for years. Wisconsinburger (916 S. Hatch St.), Incrediburger and Eggs (909 W. First Ave.), Wolffy’s Hamburgers (1229 N. Hamilton St.) and the Elk Public House (1931 W. Pacific Ave.) are a handful of Spokane restaurants that offer non-meat options, if not necessarily the Impossible and Beyond burgers yet.

“There is a growing movement of people adopting a vegan lifestyle as more and more shocking news is released regarding our environment, the reality of conditions at factory farms and more,” said Diana Edelman, a Las Vegas-based plant-based dining expert and entrepreneur who recently launched Vegans, Baby, a business dedicated to making it easy to go vegan and showing how fun and delicious vegan dining can be around the world.

“Then there’s another movement of people learning about the health implications of consuming meat and dairy and deciding to go plant-based. Pair these with the fact that there are two successful companies out there right now with incredible, plant-based protein products – Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods – and it makes sense as to why more companies are launching options right now.”

The vegan meat market is expected to reach $2.5 billion by 2023 in the U.S. alone, with Beyond – which is backed with $72 million in venture capital from investors including Bill Gates – Impossible and Tyson among the companies competing for a piece of the meatless pie. Gates also is an investor in Impossible, which has raised nearly $400 million and sold more than 13 million Impossible Burgers since its debut.

Impossible Burgers are only in restaurants right now – founder and CEO Patrick Brown said he hopes to make Impossible Burger patties available in stores this year – while Beyond meatless products first hit shelves in 2014, with a soy-free burger patty, the Beast, available in 2015.

Edelman said of the Impossible and Beyond burgers: “I think both products are amazing ways to introduce meat-eaters to a more sustainable, cruelty-free vegan option. The companies have done an amazing job re-creating a burger using plants. There have been a few times I’ve had them and second-guessed what I was eating and had that moment of vegan panic where I thought I ate meat – they’re that similar!”

Here’s more food for thought to consider going meatless:

The U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization, in a study in 2013, estimated that livestock produced more than 14 percent of man-made greenhouse gas emissions, and more recent studies have found the percentage to be even higher.

And in a report published in 2018, the University of Oxford said that plant-based diets could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by food by as much as 73 percent.

These two studies indicate that a meatless diet is good for the planet. Add Impossible and Beyond burgers to the already tasty mix, and consuming plant-based burgers doesn’t seem so impossible and beyond reason after all.

“The future is extremely promising for the industry,” Edelman summed up. “Not only are plant-based burgers and options going to become a necessity at restaurants and imperative for them to keep up – because let’s be real, vegans decide where groups eat most often – but there’s also an emerging clean meat industry that harvests animal cells to create lab-grown meat.

“These two things are the future as more and more of the population becomes aware of the impacts of farming, the changes to the environment, health and more.”

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