Fake Meat Is Racing To Stay Relevant

Both Beyond and Impossible have released new burgers to address flagging sales.

This week, Beyond Meat announced "the fourth generation of its core beef platform, Beyond IV." That tech-jargon phrase means that there's a new variety of plant-based Beyond Burger available, one made with avocado oil, fewer total ingredients, and a greater focus on vegetable content. The brand notes this is an "extensive renovation" of its prior burger; it will roll out to retailers nationwide this spring. Media outlets, however, are reporting on the story behind that story: Beyond's overall struggles in the marketplace.

The press release might focus entirely on the healthy attributes of Beyond IV and the promise of the new product, but the news story has been circulated more widely in a different light. "Beyond Meat launches new, healthier version of burger in bid to bring back customers," reads the CNBC headline. "Facing Sluggish Demand, Beyond Meat Is Shaking Up Its Fake Beef Recipe," reads CNET's coverage. "Beyond Meat revamps plant-based burger to boost weak sales," The New York Post writes. The once revolutionary fake meat purveyor can't seem to outrun the looming specter of its own demise.

Beyond Meat’s new burger, explained

The new Beyond IV products—sold as both burger patties and ground "meat" that can be used in a variety of ways—are described as the company's "meatiest, juiciest beef products yet," and the package label (seen here) prominently displays a photo of an avocado to center the avocado oil as its key ingredient. Beyond says this patty is a "significant advancement across taste, health, and clean label."

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When the company gets into specifics about the advantages of Beyond IV, it's inadvertently highlighting many of the shortcomings that its product has had for the past decade or so. For example, it's explained that avocado lowers the saturated fat in these patties by 60%. The saturated fat content of plant-based meat has long been cited as a potential issue. The use of red lentil and faba bean proteins, Beyond says, will create a more nutrient-dense product; studies have shown that many nutrients found in animal products are absent in plant-based offerings. And by celebrating Beyond IV's Clean Label certifications, the company reminds us that this has always been a highly processed food, just like its meaty counterparts.

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Even if Beyond IV seeks to improve upon every failing the product has been criticized for in the past, will one product rollout be enough to change the tide? Fake meat has, after all, been in free fall for months, and many consumers commented beneath the brand's Instagram announcement that an avocado allergy would prevent them from buying Beyond IV. The brand clarified that the prior formulation of its product would still be sold as Cookout Classic patties at grocery stores nationwide.

Impossible has a new burger, too

Last summer, Impossible Meat, which has also been struggling to maintain traction in the marketplace, took a similar but opposite approach to revive sales. Rather than focus on added health benefits, as Beyond has, Impossible released "Indulgent Burgers," described by the brand as "premium patties with gourmet flavor."

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"Each third-pound, restaurant-style patty packs maximum flavor and juiciness for the most decadent of dining occasions or backyard cookouts," the press release read in part. Though the announcement doesn't get into specifics about the new formulation, as Beyond IV does, it notes that the Indulgent Burger is "a thick, flavor-forward burger for discerning burger-lovers." It briefly joined the Ruby Tuesday menu as a limited-time item in November 2023.

The struggles of fake meat

Both Beyond and Impossible have seen layoffs within their ranks in recent quarters, and the plant-based meat market continues to experience the perpetual challenge of aiming for the right customer. Strictly adherent vegans and vegetarians are not, and have never been, the target demographic for these companies. But even catering to so-called flexitarians—people who aim to eat a little less meat in their day-to-day lives—has been a struggle, since the sector has failed to achieve price parity with real meat.

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Plant-based meat has also seen the rise of a potential new competitor: lab-grown meat, which was recently given the green light by the USDA to be sold to U.S. consumers. This "cultivated" meat, which harvests the cells of living animals and grows them into cultures large enough to form things like chicken cutlets, has become the new darling of investors as they invest steadily less into plant-based patties.

Even a decade into the plant-based meat boom, it's hard to say if any of these products will survive their trend cycles and become permanent fixtures in our grocery landscape beyond the next decade or so. When it comes to removing meat from one's daily diet, our advice is simply to add beans.

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