The growing trend of ‘meatless’ meat has provided the restaurant industry with alternatives to meet the needs of the growing number of vegetarians, particularly the plant-based burger. But, are ‘bleeding’ burgers really the answer for non-meat eating diners?

The environmental effort it takes to produce a plant-based burger is far less than efforts to raise farm animals and produce traditional beef burgers. According to PETA, cows need to eat 16 pounds of vegetation in order to convert it into one pound of beef. It takes 2,500 gallons of water to produce a pound of meat, but 25 gallons for a pound of wheat. As a result, there is a demand for restaurateurs and operators to provide more sustainable meat replacements.

These replacements have arrived in the form of brands like Impossible Foods, which supplies its plant-based Impossible Burger to thousands of restaurants worldwide. The start-up company has recreated the flavour, smell, look and texture of beef to the point where the burger ‘bleeds’.

The special ingredient that gives the burger a blood-red colour when cooked is heme, an iron-rich protein made from engineered yeast. Heme can be found in high concentrations in meat from animals, however Impossible Foods has taken DNA from soy plants to create its heme. Other ingredients include coconut fat, lettuce, dill pickles, potato protein and roasted garlic mayonnaise.

Vegetarian attitudes to a plant-based burger that replicates meat

The Impossible Burger isn’t the only plant based item that has grown popular. The Beyond Burger, by Beyond Meat, can be found in over 11,000 restaurants, hotels and universities worldwide, as well as in the meat section of 10,000 US retail stores.

The Beyond Burger is made up of pea protein faba beans, coconut oil and potato starch. Beets provide the red, meat-like tint. The product also recently launched in the UK, in Honest Burgers restaurants.

As these meat replica alternatives emerge, educational charity The Vegetarian Society believes that progress is being made as long as animals are not on diner’s plates.

The Vegetarian Society digital content officer Su Taylor said: “According to a British Social Attitudes report, three in ten people in Britain (29%) say they have reduced the amount of meat they eat in the past 12 months, and nearly half (44%) of people either do not eat meat, have reduced the amount of meat they eat or are considering reducing the amount of meat they eat.

“With demand for vegetarian and meat-free alternatives rising, it’s great to hear about restaurants across the world working hard to keep their customers happy and increasing their vegetarian range. Customers will welcome increased vegetarian and vegan choice in UK restaurants.”

Impossible Foods founder Patrick Brown discusses the growth of the ‘bleeding’ meatless Impossible Burger for the restaurant industry.

Jasmine Lee-Zogbessou: Why do you think the Impossible Burger has grown so popular amongst restaurants?

Patrick Brown: About 4,000 restaurants now serve the Impossible Burger. A lot of restaurant owners and chefs love it simply because it’s delicious. Some buy it because it’s sustainable, and they’re trying to reduce their carbon footprint. Others buy it because their customers ask for it by name.

But ultimately there’s one reason why they keep it on their menus: It sells. The Impossible Burger is one of the few ingredients on a restaurant’s menu that can single-handedly attract new customers, generate lines around the block and boost sales.

In fact, the CEO of Umami Burger, one of America’s most acclaimed “better burger” concepts, said Umami outlets experienced a 38% increase in customer traffic leading to 18% sales growth after adding the Impossible Burger to the menu. In April, the American fast-food chain White Castle debuted the Impossible Slider in three key regions and sales were 30% higher than White Castle’s original expectations.

White Castle CEO Lisa Ingram said [reported by Bloomberg] the Impossible Slider increased market share 250% over restaurants that did not serve it. The Impossible Slider is considered the best burger on the White Castle menu and one of the best fast-food burgers in America. The initial test results were so strong that White Castle rolled out the Impossible Slider to all 377 locations in September.

JLZ: Why have you created vegetarian/vegan burgers that replicate meat?

PB: We started with a burger because it’s an iconic and extremely popular meal nearly everywhere in the world. We also wanted to provide a product that can replace conventional beef from ground-up cows. Feeding, raising and killing animals for meat is the world’s most destructive technology. The greenhouse gas footprint of animal agriculture rivals that that of every car, truck, bus, ship, airplane, and rocketship combined [according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change]. Animal agriculture pollutes and consumes more water than any other industry and cows take a bigger toll on the environment than any other type of livestock.

Today’s Impossible Burger requires approximately 75% less water and 95% less land, and generates about 87% lower greenhouse gas emissions than a conventional burger from cows. And while it has the iron and protein, the Impossible Burger is produced without using hormones or antibiotics.

JLZ: Do you see this growing trend of meatless ‘meat’ burgers surpassing the traditional beef burger?

PB: Yes for sure. In fact, our goal is to eliminate the need for animals in the food system by 2035 and that means that all the food we currently get from animals, from burgers to cheese to fish and eggs, will eventually come directly from plants.

JLZ: Can you explain the health benefits of the Impossible Burger and why it is a healthier option than original beef burgers?

PB: The Impossible Burger delivers more protein and slightly more iron than animal-derived beef. The Impossible Burger has no hormones, antibiotics, slaughterhouse contaminants, fecal matter or other toxins that can be found in ground beef from cows. Because the Impossible Burger is made entirely from plants, it contains zero cholesterol.

JLZ: Will the Impossible Burger enter European and UK locations?

PB: We are currently available in the United States, Hong Kong and Macau. Next year we will be available in additional restaurants in Asia. After that, we plan to launch in additional markets and eventually be worldwide.