Vegan Burger as a future diet? The answer is in the lab.

Jens Köster


In the last weeks, the vegan burgers have provided a lot of attention in the whole world, with a brilliant IPO by Beyond Meat and a worldwide distribution. The latest news this week, tell us, that the German discounter LIDL will have the Beyond Burgers available in their stores in the next weeks. The vegan burger from Impossible Foods is on sale in the US at Burger King and Mc Donald's presents the McVegan.


The hype has hit Hollywood stars and international investors around the world. Silicon Valley is producing what it claims is a groundbreaking revolution in the consumer goods sector, this time not in the tech sector. The taste of the burger is consistently rated as positive and the placements of the burger takes place in supermarkets in addition to the meat variants. Today, vegan burgers are awesome and hip. The IPO of Beyond Meat makes for gold digger sentiment on Wall Street. Finally, Silicon Valley has again created a mass-market consumer product. Burger King sells the Impossible Burger in the US. The next step for Impossible Foods will be selling their products not only to restaurants but also to grocery stores. Other new companies like Before the Butcher enter with new plant-based burgers into the market.


Finally, it seems, the first step towards meatless nutrition has been taken, and the mega topic of climate change, that exists worldwide, finds a solution here. The IPO of Beyond Meat crowns the conclusion of a long period of courageous entrepreneurial life and not only Wall Street, but also all the media are enthusiastic.


Overall, a multi-billion dollar market has developed, with companies in the US, Europe and Asia in particular, bringing vegan meat alternatives to the market as finished products. It will not stay on the subject of meat, research and development in the field of plant-based milk substitute or egg replacement products are also in full swing. Niche products create a mass market and a solution for the drastically necessary reduction of greenhouse gases, caused here by factory farming, is within reach.


But let's take a look at the ingredients in a Beyond Burger


The ingredients of a Beyond Burger are:

Water, Pea Protein Isolate, Expeller-Pressed Canola Oil, Refined Coconut Oil, Contains 2% or less of the following: Cellulose from Bamboo, Methylcellulose, Potato Starch, Natural Flavor, Maltodextrin, Yeast Extract, Salt, Sunflower Oil, Vegetable Glycerin, Dried Yeast, Gum Arabic, Citrus Extract (to protect quality), Ascorbic Acid (to maintain color), Beet Juice Extract (for color), Acetic Acid, Succinic Acid, Modified Food Starch, Annatto (for color).

All ingredients from Non-GMO sources


It is a fully processed food, where not soy, but pea protein plays the crucial role. No wonder these burgers were so quickly adopted by fast food chains, restaurants and supermarkets. Refrigerated and convenience products for the mass market, which are so popular despite or even with the rising meat consumption of cheap meat products in the US. 


And Impossible Foods faces the challenge, especially if they want to sell their product in Europe, that they offer a fully processed food, with genetically modified soya and high levels of glyphosate


All of these products from Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods and new suppliers in this area are finished products with vegetable proteins.  Are the mistakes made by the meat industry to produce packaged mass-products repeated here, only with the argument, this is vegetable?


The fundamental questions arise as to whether and why these vegan products are perceived with so many compound ingredients to be "healthier" than meat products, and how a product that imitates another product has to be judged in a socially economic background in a society.


The crucial and unanswered question is, what impact these vegan burgers will have on the environment and agricultural economics in the US and worldwide. Profit maximization can succeed here in harmony with resource-conserving cultivation of the purely vegetable basic components of the products. For many years, factory farming has tortured animals to death and established meat as a cheap everyday product with enormous damage to the ecosystem worldwide. In the perception of consumers, the desire for a healthier diet and concern about climate change are driving consumer interest in plant-based foods. This is the result by new research from Euromonitor International. But on the other hand, no research has yet been done in detail, on how to satisfy the huge demand for peas or lentils associated with these vegan burgers and ensure a positive effect on, for example, our soils and our water. By processing the peas into an industrialized product, a much higher price for the consumer is created than for buying the raw material products, for example one kilo of peas. As the demand for these vegan burgers grows and as more startups will excessively take advantage of this trend, there will be a huge increase in global prices for example, for pea proteins. Therefore, companies in this area need to find other sources of plant-based proteins (such as almonds). Again, these startups and all the established companies, such as Nestlé, which launched the Incredible Burger, will face enormous challenges.


The cooling of the patties for example of the Beyond Burger products and the enormous logistical effort in the cold chain logistics provide for higher costs compared to a plate with a delicious pea meal with peas from the own cultivation at home. Clean label also means that consumers want to know where the peas were grown and harvested and that any genetic manipulation is absolutely excluded in this products.


So can these burgers be the way to the future of our diet?

No, they can not.


Silicon Valley and the media staging pushing the burgers just until it is no longer possible. And as always with new topics, an opinion not in accordance with this hype is not welcomed. Peter Thiel said that very well in the big interview with the NZZ. Through a compliant thinking, which always runs after the next hype, an actual innovation is no longer allowed.


Add to that in the food area, despite the many cooking shows and cookbooks and millions of food pictures on Instagram, the majority of consumers, is less informed in the details and trends are followed very fast and then with a lot of passion. The picture of such a vegan burger is then posted on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook within seconds and everyone believes in the good and that he or she saves the world by eating it.


The answer can be found in the lab.


The real revolution in the food sector, which combines technology and food in perfection, is achieved through meat production in the laboratory, the so-called clean meat. As a result, factory farming and climate change increasing greenhouse gases are reduced and there will be no imitations of products, but the one known product will be established in a resource conserving and environmentally sound manner. And don´t forget also the opportunities that will arise in the area of fish from clean laboratory fish over the next few years to conserve our fish stocks and oceans.


The Israeli startup Aleph Farms, which is a key player in the development of clean meat, has just completed a $ 12 million round of financing. Aleph Farms is building the future of meat by producing real meat from cow-cells, providing the same taste - but without killing animals. The company developed with it´s unique non-GMO technology a way to isolate the cells and grow them outside of the animal to form the same complex tissue (muscle, fat etc…) typical to steaks. The products developed by Aleph Farms will be made of real meat, without harming animals and significantly reducing the impact on our environment. Tastings of the meat that has been developed in the laboratory by Aleph Farms has shown how tasty this meat is and which opportunities can arise for our future diet.


If I want to eat vegetable, then I cook peas or lentils, which are cultivated in my region and I will achieve thereby a meaningful, ecological friendly nutrition. Imitating meat and repeating all mistakes made by the meat industry in the vegetable sector as prefabricated mass products can not be the answer to solve our future food supply. Habits and cultural differences are crucial for the purchase and consumption of products, especially in the food sector. Therefore, it will certainly take some time to establish meat products from the laboratory in the market, apart from the enormous research and development costs in this area. But artificial intelligence, 3-d printing processes, the real combination of food and technology, will determine the future of our nutrition.

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