15 Jun 2017

Vegan burger hits American meat aisles

From Nine To Noon, 10:10 am on 15 June 2017

Introducing the first plant-based burger to win a spot in the meat section of American supermarkets...

Beyond Burger in a burger

 Beyond Burger in action Photo: J. Kenji López-Alt

Seth Goldman's Beyond Burger patties are the first plant-based product to be sold alongside meat in the supermarket chains Whole Foods and Safeway.

In the late '90s, Goldman developed Honest Tea – partly because as a runner who didn't want to buy a sugary drink he was "thirsty", he says.

"I always thought there was something missing in the beverage aisle."

"I left my job in the investment world, and launched Honest Tea in my house with five thermoses and an empty bottle. We pasted a label on and managed to get an appointment with Whole Foods and they gave us a try."

Beyond Burgers are also filling in a gap in Goldman's own shopping basket.

He and his family have been vegetarian for 14 years and it's no secret that vegetarian burgers can be pretty dismal, he says.

"I joke that if you were trying to come up with a strategy to discourage people from being vegan or vegetarian, the vegie burger would be a pretty good tool."

Executive Chairman of Beyond Meat, Seth Goldman.

Executive Chairman of Beyond Meat, Seth Goldman. Photo: Supplied / Beyond Meat

Goldman's company Beyond Meat took a scientific approach to recreating the texture of meat, which makes up so much of its taste, he says.

They took an MRI of a hamburger and looked at its interwoven protein and fat structure.

"Most of the veggie burgers out there basically say 'Let's out a bunch of grains together and find a way to bind them and not really focus on what happens when they get heated, which is usually they dry out."

In Beyond Burgers, fats and protein are bound through an extrusion process to create a pattie that has no cholesterol, half the saturated fat of hamburger and is soy-free.

The burger's main ingredient is Canadian yellow pea. It also contains coconut oil and canola oil, beetroot juice for colour, bamboo fibre and potato starch for binding and some flavouring.

It was a real coup when the Whole Foods meat buyer agreed to put his burgers in the meat aisle, says Goldman.

"If you're in the freezer section, which is where the veggie burgers are, you're only reaching 5percent of the audience, when you're in the meat section you're reaching the other 95 percent of people who buy their protein there."

The percentage of vegetarians in the US hasn't moved from 5 percent for decades he says.

"If we can get it into people's diets so they have one more plant-based meal every week … it would effectively be the same as doubling the number of vegans in the country."

Beyond Meat is now developing a vegan sausage.