I’ve been closely following the movement towards more plant-based foods, and am extremely excited to see how much activity is happening in this area in the last year or two.
More and more athletes in particular are talking about using plants (or mostly plants) to sustain themselves through their rigorous training regimens, and I think it’s an extremely important message to be sending. Especially in light of all of the new information around how much of an impact meat consumption has on not only our environment, but also on our own bodies.
Like many of my friends, I was raised eating meat and potatoes at every meal. But since switching to a primarily plant-based diet while preparing for upcoming mountaineering expeditions, I have found my performance and general health to have improved drastically. It is for this reason (among many others) that I will continue to promote plant-based diets for athletes and normal people alike. And I’m happy to report that the world is (finally) catching on. There is so much more to come in this space. We’ve come a long way, but still have a long way to go.
Importantly, most of the companies creating the new generation of meatless products aren’t trying to do away with meat entirely, as they, too, realize that this might not be entirely realistic given current consumer behavior. But what they do know is that if they can simply displace a percentage of current meat consumption with plants, while showing people that it does not mean a sacrifice on taste, then they will have played a very important part.
With that said, I have been excitedly following a few of the companies which are leading the charge on meat-replacement products, which are touted to be so good that even meat eaters can’t tell the difference. These brands appeal just as much to meat eaters as they do to vegans. Specifically, Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods have been leading the way in the U.S., and both are now starting to expand internationally. (Another interesting company (but a bit further off) is Holland-based Mosa Meat.) Both Beyond and Impossible have a very impressive roster of investors, athlete ambassadors, and celebrity-turned-venture-capitalists (I’m looking at you, Leo DiCaprio!) taking note, and the spread of these movements can no longer be ignored. Most recently, Beyond Meat has just filed for IPO on Nasdaq. Exciting times.
It only made sense then that I go to try the Beyond Burger as it is being presented here in the Netherlands, and see what my impressions were. The Beyond Burger has only just started expanding to Europe, and I wanted to see how it differed from the presentation in the U.S. (if at all). I was also curious to see if people in Europe have an appetite for these types of foods as much as Americans are starting to, or would I find the venue to be completely empty?
Other things I wanted to find out: Why did they choose this particular venue to launch the Beyond Burger in Amsterdam? Is the offering hidden on the menu or is it prominently placed? Are people actually ordering it or is it well behind it’s meatier peers? How is it being served - do you have options, or is there only one way to order up your BB? And how does it actually taste? Does it truly feel like it could be meat, or is it just another blah rubbery bean “veggie” burger? All pressing questions in my investigation.
I high tailed it over to Thrill Grill and here were my takeaways:
1) Cool venue choice. Not sure how much thought went into the decision to roll out Beyond at Thrill Grill in Amsterdam, but it’s a posh, welcoming venue and there are two different locations, making it accessible and a fun experience. A good feeling the moment you walk in the door; we are off to a good start.
2) Prominent marketing. The second I walked in the door, I was met with not one but three signs / marketing indicators that Beyond Meat was being served here. In fact, I joked that the restaurant should just be called Beyond Grill, as I noticed more of the Beyond products than I did the restaurant’s original ones. A multi page spread catalog was placed on top of each menu at the table, which I think says a lot for a place that prides themselves on selling meat burgers.
Clearly they are fully embracing the plant-based burger without hesitation, which was rad to see.
3) Multitude of options. I was happy to see that there wasn’t just one way to try the Beyond Burger. There was one exclusively vegan burger option, which came with a fun piri piri sauce and a vegan bun. I ordered that for starters.
But you could also replace ANY burger on the menu with a Beyond Burger, but keep the non-vegan toppings. You still want the cheese? No problem. Can’t do without that sizzling piece of bacon? Sure thing. Still want mayo? No problemo. Let’s call it a perfect compromise for the people trying to eat less meat, but who still aren’t quite ready to give up some of their non-vegan indulgences.
Hey, it’s better than nothing.
We ordered the fully vegan Beyond Burger with piri piri sauce and the traditional cheeseburger (replaced with a BB), but still adorned with cheese, and all the normal fixings - plus some fun veggie sides.
4) It tastes great - and could easily be mistaken for meat! The first comment out of my mouth was, “wow, you truly can barely tell it isn’t meat.” And you know why? Here’s my take: meat, especially in a burger format, is *USUALLY* a vehicle for TOPPINGS, spices and flavors. It’s why you rarely see someone sit down just to eat a plain old burger by itself. Ain’t nobody eating a burger for that purpose.
They’re eating it for the total package. So when you put a Beyond Burger into a bun, still include some cheese (or not), and then add in all of your other toppings, WITHOUT sacrificing consistency, you can honestly not tell the difference. To me it’s the same as if you like ranch flavoring. You don’t really care if that ranch flavor/taste is on Doritos, Cheeze-it’s, rice cakes, you name it. You just know you like the combination of some crunch + those flavors in your mouth. This kinda feels like the same thing. Meat-textured burger, ketchup, sauce, bun, paired with fries. It does not matter. Yet it does: it’s so much better for you, Earth, the cows… the list goes on.
And let me be clear: this is NOTHING like an over-salty frozen vegetarian burger of old. And to understand why, it is important to understand a bit of the backstory. Let’s call it the MOB: the Making Of the Burger.
To make these proprietary round wheels of burgery goodness, Beyond’s team aren’t just throwing a bunch of ingredients into a bowl and seeing what happens. No: an entire team of 40+ scientists and years of lab testing have gone into composing this burger, and it shows. There is real science in what they are doing, and a truly dedicated effort to obtain a noteworthy nutritional profile, without sacrificing what ultimately matters most to consumers: TASTE.
Beyond is doing something entirely different. And they aren’t sitting still; they are constantly iterating on their recipe, and innovation is in their DNA.
My final take: barring any prohibitive regulatory hurdles (read more here), I expect to see Beyond around for a very long time, and continuing to innovate in this space. They have set the bar high. I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.
Plant-based Athletes to follow:
Alex Honnold (a Beyond Meat ambassador!), world class record-setting climber
Kilian Jornet & Emilie Forsberg, ultrarunners & mountaineers
Lucy Bartholomew, ultrarunner, recent Western States winner
Steph Davis, world class climber
And some others I haven’t mentioned above: Plant Powered Athletes You Need To Know
And a great podcast resource for vegan athletes: No Meat Athlete
Some other resources on Beyond Meat and plant-based trends: