There’s nothing like the first great bite of a wonderful burger, the lettuce crisp and ripe in your mouth, the bun pressed hard against your upper lip, the texture chewy but not too soft and the burger itself, a thick and juicy sensory smorgasbord. Well, that’s how it should be, but the McDonald’s generation has become used to expecting less than top-notch burger experiences. The limp patty, flabby bun, and squeezy cheese rarely live up to those glistening commercials where everything is perfectly arranged in a clever marketing ploy to start those salivary glands going even as you head tells you it’s a con. But no longer. Let’s celebrate the end of those sad little sandwiches and enter the era of epicurean burger bliss.
Over the last decade, a number of companies have been heavily investing in the burger space. But they’re not quite the people you’d expect. I’m talking Silicon Valley venture capitalists, meat moguls, and Bill Gates. The burgers they’re focused on are of the plant-based variety. Yes, I said meat moguls too. “People want protein, so whether it’s animal-based protein or plant-based protein, they have an appetite for it. Plant-based protein is growing almost, at this point, a little faster than animal-based, so I think the migration may continue in that direction,” Tom Hayes, the CEO of Tyson Foods told Fox Business. In 2016, Tyson took a 5% share of Beyond Meat (the startup has raised $55 million so far) and other meat companies have been making inquiries into this space.
There’s profit to be made in being first with the best new burger; a recent report suggested the alternative protein market could reach $5.2 billion by 2020. There’s a wide range of companies investing in the future of meat alternatives, including Akua’s kelp-based jerky, Terramino’s plant-based salmon burgers and Impossible Foods Impossible burger. “In Silicon Valley and other venture capital communities there’s strong interest from investors in meat replacement products,” said Ricardo San Martin, research director at the UC Berkeley Alternative Meat Lab, which opened in 2017.
Here’s who should be on your radar.
Company Name: Seattle Food Tech
Hero Product: Plant-based chicken nuggets
Money Raised: $1 million
Why you should know about them: This company is part of Y Combinator’s 2018 summer class. They’re looking to get a slice of the growing plant-based meat market, and their first products are chicken nuggets made from textured wheat, oil, chicken flavoring, cornstarch, and corn breading.
When can you try this: TBD.
Company Name: Terramino
Hero Product: Plant-based salmon burger
Money raised: $4.25 million
Why you should know about them: The company got their start when founder and Thiel fellow Kimberlie Le received $100,000 from Peter Thiel. Le’s created a way to synthesize fungi into edible seafood mimicking products and the salmon burger will be the first of Terramino’s offerings. The reason to get hyped about this is that their burger’s chock full of Omega-3 and digestible protein, meaning it’s a good replication of the benefits you naturally get from fish.
When can you try this: They say they’ll hold tastings this year, but no word of when this will be in stores.
Company Name: Impossible Foods
Hero Product: The Impossible Burger
Money Raised: $387.5 million
Why you should know about them: The go-to name in the meatless burger world, the Impossible Burger has been kindly called the ‘burger that bleeds.’ That reddish hue is created from extracting heme (an iron-rich molecule that gives blood its color) from plants and creates a delicious mouthful with a great flavor and texture. It’s incredibly delicious, but don’t take my word for it; it’s has won acclaim from noted food critics. Bon Appetit’s Christina Chey wrote: “The burger was everything I expected one to be: juicy, dense, chewy, salty, and satisfyingly fatty.” The Spoon said, “It’s savory, has a good texture, and even has that umami flavor that comes from red meat,” and Food and Wine reported that, “the Impossible patty’s slightly rusty, iron-y flavor, the ground texture absorbs enough of the onion and oil from the grill and holds together enough like beef to make you not even think twice that you’re eating something that didn’t come from a cow.”
When can you try this: Currently available in a number of restaurants, cafeterias, airports and grocery stores. This includes Umami, Bareburger and White Castle. Find your local place here.
Company Name: Ocean Hugger Foods
Hero Product: Ahimi Sashimi Tuna
Money Raised: Undisclosed
Why you should know about them:
Founded by Chef James Corwell, the idea for fish free sashimi was born out of an experience he had at the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo. Astounded by the volume of fish, he started looking into a way to make that more sustainable.. or replace it. After numerous tests, he found a formula he liked. Made from fresh Roma tomatoes, soy sauce, filtered water, sugar and sesame oil, it’s described as uncannily similar to the real thing, and can be used for sashimi, nigiri, poke, tartare and ceviche. In November 2017 they launched in Whole Foods across America.
When can you try this: Whole Foods across America.
Company Name: Good Catch Foods
Hero Product: Fish Free Tuna
Money Raised: $5.5 million
Why you should know about them: In 2016, restaurateur brothers Derek and Chad Sarno got together with Eric Schnell and Marci Zaroff of Beyond Brands, and venture capitalist Chris Kerr to found Good Catch Foods. Their goal was to help repopulate the ocean by changing the way people eat. “Overfishing has depleted so many ocean species, the ecosystem is starving and other sea life are dying off,” they wrote on their website. “We will do whatever we can in our power to educate and advocate, holding the vision of a pristine, thriving ocean in our future.” It’s made from a number of legumes which include chickpea, lentil, soy, and fava. They’ll also sell crab cakes, fish burgers and fish-free sliders. “There’s still not a lot of plant-based seafood options. Yet of all the animals slaughtered worldwide, 95% is seafood!” Sarno said.
When can you try this: December 2018
Company Name: Akua (formerly Beyond the Shoreline)
Hero Product: Kelp jerky
Money Raised: $76,000 on Indiegogo, undisclosed amount from seed funders (estimated $100,00)
Why you should know about them: Co-founded by Courtney Boyd Myers and Will in Horowitz in 2017, the goal was to create a jerky that was plant-based and delicious; all the benefits of real jerky with none of the environmental impact. “We’ve already got recipes in development for burgers, sausages, instant seaweed stews, and vegan bone broth,” Myers told Food Navigator. The jerky is made using kelp, mushrooms and superfood ingredients. They’re going for the health angle here, so it’s free from refined sugar, soy, gluten. They’ve created in a variety of flavors including rosemary BBQ, sea salt and sesame and turmeric and coconut.
When can you try this: It’s $26 for a three pack on Indiegogo, shipping summer 2018.
Company Name: Beyond Meat
Hero product: The Beyond Burger
Money Raised: $72 million
Why you should know about them: Created by Ethan Brown in 2009, the Beyond Meat empire has gone global; their vegan patties debuted in Asia in 2017, and can be found in TGI Fridays across Taiwan They’ve also partnered with distributors in South Africa and Mexico and launched in Canada, Australia, and the UK. Their star product is their vegan patty, a delicious burger that sizzles in the pan. Beyond Meat have been active in getting this stocked at the meat aisle in grocery stores; like, next to the real meat, not the tofu. “Our goal is to see that category redefined—instead of having it be called ‘meat,’ it would just be called ‘protein,’ whether it’s protein coming from a cow or chicken or from soy, pea, quinoa, or other plant-based sources,” Ethan Brown, Beyond Meat’s founder told Slate. They also make chicken strips and Beyond Meat sausages.
When can you try this: Available in 10,000+ hotels, restaurants and college campuses, as well as supermarkets.
Company Name: New Wave Foods
Hero product: Shrimp Sushi
Money Raised: $250,000
Why you should know about them: CEO and co-founder Dominique Barnes is trying to solve the problems of global fish shortage — for context, we’ll be an estimated 80 million tons short by 2020.” Our technology allows us to recreate the texture and nutrition of seafood with plants & algae,” she wrote on their website. Barnes holds a master’s in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation and is passionate about changing the way people think about seafood. The startup was founded in 2015, and incubated at IndieBio in San Francisco.
When can you try this: Available in a few select restaurants in California and New York. See the full list here.
Company Name: Sunfed Foods
Hero Product: Chicken free chicken
Money Raised: $1.5 million
Why you should know about them: Auckland-based Sunfed Foods launched in 2015, founded by former software engineer Shama Lee. The first chicken-free chicken (made from pea protein) went on sale in July 2017 and sold out on the same day. There’s also a bull free burger currently in the works for quarter four this year, and the company is looking to expand internationally as well.
When can you try this: Currently they are in 62 stores and outlets in New Zealand.
The bigger picture
It might take some time before all these companies come to market, but whoever said the pursuit of the best burger should be easy? There’s more to innovation in plant-based burgers than simply a tasty bite; animal agriculture contributes around 15% of greenhouse gas emissions and we’ve all seen the chaos that rising temperatures are creating in the world today.“There’s the awareness of how can we feed 10 billion people by 2050,” says David Welch, director of Science and Technology at the Good Food Institute. “The current industrial animal agriculture system cannot do that.” The market is there; over the last year sales of plant-based food went up 8.1%, according to Nielsen research. That’s over $3.1 billion. No wonder people are putting their money where their mouths are.. that first bite tastes great.
(note: the $ amount raised by the above companies was taken from Crunchbase and PitchBook data).
If there are any other companies you think should be on this list, please leave a comment or email me.