The United States’ largest meat processor is investing money in a company that makes artificial meat products from vegetables. Tyson Foods has announced that it is spending an undisclosed amount to acquire a five percent stake in Beyond Meat, the company behind the Beyond Burger — a fully vegan product that supposedly “bleeds” like a real beef burger.
The deal is one of the first major investments by a major player in the meat industry into plant-based proteins, and seems to mark an increase in quality of meat replacement and alternative products. “The quality of the Beyond Burger is amazing,” Tyson Foods’ Monica McGurk told the New York Times. “We think it’s a game-changing product that gives us exposure to this fast-growing part of the food business.” Other big figures have shared the sentiment — Tyson Foods’ backing follows investment from Obvious Corporation, founded by Twitter creators Evan Williams and Biz Stone, and Bill Gates, who said he couldn’t tell the difference between Beyond Meat’s fake chicken and the real thing.
Plant-based meat replacement products like Gardenburger and Quorn have been available for several decades, but as the meat industry has come under fire in recent years for its impact on climate change, scientists have spent more time trying to cultivate more meat-like meat alternatives. Some researchers have attempted to grow real meat in the lab, making actual animal protein from stem cells, but the process is still prohibitively expensive for most consumers. The Beyond Burger, on the other hand, uses proteins from soy and peas, yeast, and other ingredients to approximate meat, even using beet juice for its “blood.”
Tyson Foods’ investment signals interest in the growing plant-based meat industry, but the question remains whether it spent the money because it believes such products are the future, or if it just wants good PR. “The most positive view is that this means the meat industry is shifting away from animal meat to plant-based meat,” executive director of the Plant Foods Association, Michele Simon, said to the NYT. “But I don’t think we know that’s the case yet — it could also be a way of distracting attention from their industrial meat business.”
Strict vegans may also dislike investment from such a major meat industry figure in their meat-free products, but Ethan Brown, Beyond Meat’s founder, said that the move would help his company’s products “get out of the penalty box that’s the ‘alternative’ section in the supermarket and get into a mainstream discussion with the consumer.” The company’s products are already on their way — Beyond Burgers are already sold alongside beef patties in Whole Foods’ freezers — but it says it wants to bring meat alternative products even further into the mainstream.