Actor and environmental activist Leonardo DiCaprio announced that he is investing in the plant-based food startup Beyond Meat. In a taste test of the Beyond Burger, it didn’t fool me for beef, but it is a tasty vegetarian option that mimics the look and texture of a traditional patty. Beyond Meat is one of several plant-based food companies aiming to disrupt the $48 billion meat industry by creating more eco-friendly meat alternatives.
When Beyond Meat, a company that makes plant-based alternatives to animal proteins, claimed it invented a vegetarian burger that tastes like beef, it sounded too good to be true.
But the Beyond Burger has grown in popularity since it was first sold at a Whole Foods in Boulder, Colorado last year. Since then, the product has become available in 350 more Whole Foods locations,850 Safeways, all 100 BurgerFi’s locations, six TGI Fridays, and hundreds of other grocery stores, including over 500 Krogers – the largest grocery chain in the United States.
It has also been backed by a long list of investors, including Bill Gates, Twitter co-founders Biz Stone and Evan Williams, the meat company Tyson Foods, and the Humane Society.
Announced today, another high-profile investor is joining them: Leonardo DiCaprio.
In a statement, the Oscar-winning actor and environmental activist said he is backing Beyond Meat because of its mission of creating plant-based foods. Plant-based “meats” can have a lower environmental impact than real meat, because it doesn’t rely on livestock that requires more land and water.
“Livestock production is a major contributor to carbon emissions,” DiCaprio said. “Shifting from animal meat to the plant-based meats developed by Beyond Meat is one of the most powerful measures someone can take to reduce their impact on our climate.”
“The company’s ability to create appealing, healthy meat directly from plants will go a long way in helping everyday consumers take action on climate change.”
DiCaprio has also invested in the sustainable seafood company LoveTheWild and in the plant-based snack company Hippeas. In 1998, he launched the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, a nonprofit devoted to promoting environmental causes, like wildlife preservation, marine life and ocean protection, indigenous rights, renewable energy, and reductions in carbon emissions. In September, he donated $20 million to more than 100 organizations through the foundation.
Beyond Meat would not disclose DiCaprio’s exact investment.
Each package of Beyond Burgers comes with two four-ounce patties. It’s usually sold for $5.99 – almost twice the price of beef per ounce.
When I tried the burger last year, the patties looked exactly like raw beef, but they’re made mainly from pea protein, yeast extract, and coconut oil. They contain beet juice, which gives them a reddish color.
According to the nutrition label on the back, the Beyond Burger has more protein, sodium, and calories than a normal burger.
When I cooked my first patty, I threw it on a small skillet without oil. Unlike most vegetarian burgers I’ve tried, the Beyond Burger sizzled like meat. It didn’t smell like beef, but more like a vegetable I couldn’t identify. Peas, perhaps?
About three minutes later, I flipped the patty over, and it was slightly browned.
After waiting about three more minutes, the burger was done. It generated a lot of liquid on the spatula, although it didn’t really look like normal beef burger juices.
After I added lettuce, tomato, and ketchup, I took a bite. In a blind taste test, it definitely wouldn’t fool me as beef, but its texture was shockingly close, and it was even pink in the middle. To make the patty taste more like a normal burger, next time I would use steak seasoning.
Inside, bits of veggies mimicked the texture of ground beef. Overall, it was tasty and juicy.
Beyond Meat sells other plant-based burgers, but the Beyond Burger is the first that’s not sold in the frozen food aisle. It sits next to real refrigerated beef at Whole Foods.
Beyond Meat aims to shake up the $48 trillion global meat industry by creating palatable alternatives. Since the Beyond Burger somewhat closely mimics a traditional burger, it may represent a step towards creating a more environmentally friendly patty.
Meat production can be harsh on the planet. Traditional livestock farming accounts for an estimated 18% of global greenhouse emissions, drains 70% of the world’s water, and uses 47,000 square miles of land every year.
Beyond Meat isn’t the only company attempting to challenge the beef industry.
Another similar startup, Impossible Foods, has raised $273.5 million in VC backing. Beyond Meat has raised at least $17 million. The Impossible Burger has also received rave reviews, including one from world-renowned chef and Momofuku founder David Chang.
“Today I tasted the future and it was vegan: this burger was juicy/bloody and had real texture like beef. But more delicious and way better for the planet,” Chang wrote in a Facebook post in 2016. “I can’t really comprehend its impact quite yet…but I think it might change the whole game.”
Although Americans are among the highest per capita eaters of meat in the world, a growing number of people in the country are slowly cutting down.
Both Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat are riding that trend, but unlike many other vegetarian brands, the two startups are targeting carnivores.
It’s hard to change habits, especially when it comes to enjoying a beef burger. But inconspicuous plant-based burgers like Beyond Meat’s could be the key.
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