Beyond Meat is moving beyond chicken substitutes with another meat analogue: Beef-Free Crumbles.
Beyond Meat launched with its Chicken-Free Strips a little more than a year ago. Beyond Meat CEO Ethan Brown said the beef product, which resembles ground beef that normally would be used in tacos or pastas, is exciting because consumers looking to reduce meat consumption often start by cutting back on red meat.
“Consumers feel more of an immediate need to pull off of beef,” Brown said in an interview at Beyond Meat’s Columbia factory.
The company, based in California, manufactures its products in Columbia using techniques originally developed by University of Missouri researchers Fu-hung Hsieh and Harold Huff. Huff is now employed by Beyond Meat.
Its factory, which it located in Columbia to be close to the researchers who came up with the process, is located off Vandiver Drive on Commerce Court.
Since announcing it would locate in Columbia in 2012, Beyond Meat has grown to more than 30 employees at the local factory and has the capability to make about 5 million chickens worth of soy-based chicken substitute. Hsieh, an MU professor of agricultural engineering and food science nutrition, said some of his former students have been hired at the company because of their studies involving food process engineering and extrusion. “We hope they will have more in the future,” Hsieh said.
The Beef-Free Crumbles rollout starts this month, and the product initially will be available in Whole Foods stores before it hits shelves in general grocery stores. The Chicken-Free Strips rollout started the same way: on the coasts and in specialty grocers. But now they are available at more general grocers, even local Hy-Vee stores. In the fall, they will roll out in Target.
“It’s more accelerated, for sure,” Brown said. “We thought it would be in the natural channel much longer.”
The company has attracted national media buzz and attracted investment from big venture firms. But for Brown, the company is about more than just sales.
Raising and feeding livestock is a less efficient way of obtaining protein than getting it directly from plants, and international studies have estimated around 20 percent of greenhouse gases are attributable to livestock production. After years working in the clean energy industry, Brown realized an easier way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions might just be getting people to eat differently. “It’s as simple as changing what’s at the center of your plate,” Brown said. “There’s all this doom and gloom about climate change, but there’s a real simple way to address it.”
He set out to find the best meat substitute possible, and he found it in Columbia. While the company has to protect how it makes its products, the process boils down to applying heat, pressure and water to rearrange amino acids, lipids and other compounds to resemble the molecular structure of meat.
“If you can source all those things outside the animal, which you can, then you can use science to reassemble the structure to mimic the texture,” Brown said.
The company is constantly refining the process to make the chicken and beef more similar to the feel of meat. It’s got more beef products to work on, and there’s still plenty of other meat out there to replicate.
“We’re working on sausage and stuff like that,” Brown said. “The product that’s coming out later this year is a burger.”
COLUMBIA DAILY TRIBUNE