By Jeanette Settembre, MarketWatch
Michael Thomas/Getty Images
Burger King’s meatless Whopper is just the beginning — some of America’s favorite foods will soon be cloned into veggie versions.
Burger King /zigman2/quotes/202094900/composite QSR +1.29% launched its new Whopper, made with a vegetarian patty by Impossible Foods that tastes and bleeds like real beef, at select locations this week. It’s the latest fast food chain to jump on the meatless bandwagon following others like White Castle and Carl’s Jr.
The company will roll out the meatless version of its signature sandwich at 59 restaurants around St. Louis to start, and expand around the country if successful. The Miami-based chain’s chief marketing officer, Fernando Machado, told the New York Times that customers and employees who have tasted it can hardly tell the difference between the real meat-made Whoppe r and the fake one.
The meatless Whopper reportedly costs about $1 more than its beefy brother. It has 240 calories and 8 grams of saturated fat, according to Cooking Light , compared to the original Whopper ’s 660 calories and 12 grams of saturated fat.
A number of other companies have shown an urgency to churn out meatless alternatives.
The world’s largest food company, Nestle /zigman2/quotes/210131093/composite NSRGY +0.65% , also announced this week plans to debut plant-based burgers across supermarkets in the U.S. and Europe later this year . The Awesome Burger, as it’s called, will be on sale where Sweet Earth products are sold. The country’s largest meat producer, Tyson Foods /zigman2/quotes/201117502/composite TSN -0.75% the maker of hot dogs, steak strips and chicken nuggets, will soon offer vegan protein, and there’s now a meatless version of tuna on the market.
Meanwhile Boston-based company Ginkgo Bioworks is trying to replicate the texture and taste of foods like meatballs, chicken nuggets, cheese and yogurt with alternative proteins. Its technology develops ingredients that could be used to replace meat, eggs, dairy and just about any protein found in food for its new startup Motif Ingredients.The food incubator of sorts creates amino acids, enzymes, vitamins and more ingredients through fermentation with genetically engineered yeasts and bacteria for protein substitutes.
“We’re trying to find all the next heme proteins,” Jason Kelly, co-founder and CEO of Ginkgo Bioworks, told MarketWatch, referring to the red iron molecule heme found in meat and some plants — used in the Impossible Burger — that makes food cook, bleed and taste like beef. “We’ll supply those ingredients to these food companies that want to develop the next Impossible Burger.”
To create an alternative to cheese, Motif would use fermented animal proteins and enzymes that congeal the ingredients to create a more solid or meltable product.
Global food companies will be able to request a specific food they want to make sans meat or dairy. To create an alternative to cheese, for example, Motif would use fermented animal proteins and enzymes that congeal the ingredients to create a more solid or meltable product.
Similarly, for alternative chicken nuggets or meatballs, the team would use the same kinds of fermented animal proteins to bind the plant-based product together to recreate the taste of animal meat. Motif said that its goal is to help plant-based brands scale their reach beyond higher-end retailers like Whole Foods /zigman2/quotes/210331248/composite AMZN +1.54% and into mainstream grocery stories like Kroger /zigman2/quotes/206215053/composite KR +0.42% and Walmart /zigman2/quotes/207374728/composite WMT -0.37% .
One-third of all Americans and 37% of millennials plan to buy more plant-based products over the next year, according to Mintel’s 2018 Summer Food & Drink Trends report. And while the majority of North American consumers still opt for meat as their primary source of protein, 23% of eaters want more plant-based options on shelves, according to data from Nielsen.
What’s more, other studies have shown that red meat is “not essential” for diets, and has been linked to health risks. Nutritionists advise cutting out excessive amounts of meat and replacing the protein source with plants like legumes, vegetables and nuts.
One-third of all Americans and 37% of millennials plan to buy more plant-based products over the next year, according to Mintel’s 2018 Summer Food & Drink Trends report.
Retails sales of plant-based foods in the U.S. that replace animal products grew by 17% to $3.7 billion in 2018, and the total U.S. plant-based retail market is worth more than $4.1 billion, according to data from Nielsen and the Good Food Institute.
Major mainstream food brands have already begun investing in alternative proteins. Tyson announced last January it invested in Los Angeles-based producer of plant-based meat substitutes Beyond Meat /zigman2/quotes/211617595/composite BYND +2.07% .
San Francisco-based food technology company Memphis Meats grows sustainable, lab-grown meat by harvesting cells from animals and cultivating them. Earlier this year, it announced plans to debut a vegetarian protein option of its own.
Last April, White Castle, known for its square beef sliders, started serving the $1.99 Impossible Burger, and the restaurant chain Bareburger also rolled out the meatless patty.
Motif’s business of providing alternative protein options could help keep up with the increasing demand for food supply. The global population was 7.6 billion in 2017 and is estimated to reach 8.6 billion in 2030, according to the United Nations. So the need for sustainable ways to provide protein to a growing number of people is apparent.
Relying less on animal agriculture can help the environment, too, considering land used for grazing and raising livestock emits more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Shares of Burger King’s parent company Restaurant Brands International have been up 26% this year so far compared to a 12% increase for the Dow Jones Industrial Average /zigman2/quotes/210598065/realtime DJIA -0.24% and 14% increase for the S&P 500 /zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime SPX +0.04%