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Beyond Meat, Tyson’s Raised & Rooted and other plant-based foods are officially mainstream

With more consumers willing to try plant-based proteins and more access, a meatless meal is no longer radical

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By Tonya Garcia, MarketWatch

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“We are proud of our products today, but are committed to a rigorous cycle of rapid and relentless innovation that includes a continual search for simple, non-GMO inputs from plants that will enable us to offer better products in both taste and nutrition,” said Ethan Brown, Beyond Meat’s chief executive, on the most recent earnings call, according to a FactSet transcript.

See: Chipotle menu relaunch will help extend sales momentum into 2020

Beyond Meat stock rallied 7.2% in Friday trading and has gained 28% over the past month, but the stock is still down nearly 27% over the last three months. The S&P 500 index /zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime SPX -0.10%   is up 10% for the past three months.

Taste has been the most important upgrade in recent years, says Mark Kalinowski, chief executive of Kalinowski Equity Research.

“The technology has improved so that you have people bite into a plant-based beef burger and can’t tell the difference from an actual beef burger,” he said.

More than half of U.S. consumers say meat alternatives should mimic the taste of real meat, according to Mintel. And more than one in five consider themselves flexitarians, meat eaters who mix in some vegan and vegetarian meals.

Fast-food restaurants, many of which serve mainstream dining options like burgers and chicken sandwiches, have jumped into the plant-based meat trend enthusiastically. Items like Burger King’s Impossible Whopper, Dunkin’ Brands’ /zigman2/quotes/200947441/composite DNKN -0.02%   Beyond Sausage Sandwich and Carl’s Jr.’s Beyond BBQ cheeseburger are just some of the dishes that have flooded menus across the U.S. in recent months.

Burger King is part of the Restaurant Brands International Inc. /zigman2/quotes/202094900/composite QSR +0.64%   portfolio.

Kalinowski takes a wait-and-see approach to the future of plant-based alternatives in terms of how big it will get and how much time it will take to get there. But he does think the future is a bright one for plant-based proteins now that they’ve already become more widely accepted.

Nearly a third of consumers (32%) would like more restaurants to offer protein substitutes for meat, poultry and seafood, according to data compiled for one of Technomic’s 2019 Center of the Plate reports.

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And more than a third of millennials (36%) would likely try a plant-based beef alternative if it were available.

“The Impossible Whopper brought in incremental customers,” said Kalinowski. “They don’t just want the same customer changing their order. They want traffic growth.”

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Tonya Garcia is a MarketWatch reporter covering retail and consumer-oriented companies. You can follow her on Twitter @tgarcianyc. She is based in New York.

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