Now Might Be the Perfect Time to Try a Meat Alternative

Recently 18 U.S. meat processing plants have closed, but there is always a Plan B.
Marcia Wendorf

Just this week, Kroger and Costco stores began limiting meat purchases due to supply chain difficulties arising from the coronavirus. In a shocking turn of events, 1,000 stores, or 20% of Wendy's restaurants, are no longer serving hamburgers due to beef shortages.


There are even rumblings at the Shake Shack chain (pun intended), where rising beef prices are eating into their profits.

What's causing the shortages?

Meat producers such as Tyson, JBS SA, and Smithfield Foods have all had to shutter processing plants due to workers becoming infected with COVID-19. Two workers at the Smithfield Foods plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota have died.

Even before the virus, the supply of pork was already being disrupted in Asia due to an outbreak of African swine fever there. In the U.S., panic buying has led to a spike in protein sales, with sales of fresh beef rising over 45%, and chicken sales rising more than 40% over the last eight weeks.

Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat

Before COVID-19 exploded on the scene, several companies had brought out plant-based meat alternatives, with two of the most well known being Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat. Since COVID-19, their sales have skyrocketed. According to a recent article in The Hill, publicly-traded Beyond Meat's first quarter net revenue increased by 141% over last year, rising to over $97 million.

Beyond Meat sausage
Beyond Meat sausage, Source: Beyond Meat

Since March 18, 2020, the company has seen its share price increase by 134% , and on Wednesday May 6, 2020 alone, Beyond Meat's shares grew by 26%. On April 21, 2020, Beyond Meat began selling its products at the nearly 4,200 Starbucks locations in China.

Impossible Foods has begun selling its products in 777 new retail locations over just the last three months, and the company is now selling its products at Albertsons and Safeway stores in California and Nevada, at Wegmans stores on the East Coast, at all Jewel-Osco stores in the Chicago area, and at Fairway Markets in New York City.

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Impossible Burgers
Impossible Burgers, Source: Impossible Foods

On May 5, 2020, Impossible Foods announced that it has begun selling its Impossible Burger at 1,700 Kroger grocery locations, bringing the total number of retail locations where its products are sold to 2,700. This past January, Impossible Foods debuted its new pork products at the CES tech conference in Las Vegas.

Impossible Food's pork
Impossible Food's pork, Source: Impossible Foods

What's in meat alternative?

According to Impossible Foods, their products are made of heme, which is an essential molecule that is found in every living plant and animal. Heme occurs naturally in the hemoglobin of an animal's blood, and in the myoglobin found in muscle. In soy plants, it is called leghemoglobin.

Impossible Foods makes its plant-based heme by taking genes from soy leghemoglobin protein and inserting them into a type of yeast called Pichia pastoris. The yeast then manufactures heme.

Over at Beyond Meat, their products are made from peas, mung beans, fava beans and brown rice for protein, and cocoa butter, coconut oil, sunflower oil, and canola oil for fat. Carbohydrates, such as potato starch and methycellulose, provide texture.

Beyond Meat chemistry
Beyond Meat chemistry, Source: Beyond Meat

Beyond Meat then adds the minerals calcium, iron, salt, and potassium chloride for taste, and they add beet juice extract, apple extract, and other natural flavors for color.

Benefits of meat alternatives

Meat alternatives don't contain the antibiotics or hormones that are found in conventional beef, pork, and chicken. Meat alternatives use far less water than conventional livestock require, with the average cow going through 11,000 gallons of water per year.

Alternative meat produces a much smaller amount of greenhouse gasses. It is estimated that cattle gas accounts for 10% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.

A recent Yahoo! News article reported that Beyond Meat estimates that only 3.6% of U.S. households have tried their products, and the company stated that, "There is an opportunity for the consumer to become more aware of a different model of [eating protein] ... and we want to be as aggressive as we can to provide the consumer with that additional option."

If you're on the fence about trying a meat alternative, consider this: Chicago restaurant Kuma's Corner is offering a "burger" that contains a six-ounce Impossible Burger patty, cherry tomato jam, avocado mash, baby arugula, red onion, a roasted garlic vegan mayonnaise, and vegan cheddar. I dare you to say your mouth isn't watering.