Each 4oz Awesome Burger - which contains textured pea protein, vital wheat gluten, coconut oil, and canola oil – contains 28g protein (vs 19g/20g for Impossible/Beyond), 6g fiber (vs 3g for Impossible/Beyond), 8g saturated fat (vs 8g/5g for Impossible/Beyond), and 400mg of sodium (vs 370-380mg for Impossible/Beyond).
But is this really a healthier option than a beef burger, which contains similar levels of saturated fat, and far less sodium (around 150mg)?
“A regular 80:20 beef burger contains no fiber at all, and everyone adds seasoning when they cook beef, whereas ours come pre-seasoned,” said Kelly, noting that the standard recommendation for salting 1lb of beef is to use 3/4 tsp. salt or 1,725 mg sodium, the equivalent of around 431mg for 4 ounces of beef (in addition to the sodium it already contains unseasoned).
The Awesome Burger also contains 60% of the RDA for vitamin C, 25% of the RDA for iron, and 15% of the RDA for calcium.
Procurement is a source of competitive advantage
By leveraging Nestlé’s buying power, Sweet Earth will also be able to offer a competitively priced product that can scale rapidly, claimed Kelly, who said teaming up with the world’s biggest food company was one of the most effective ways of accelerating the kind of change many activists want to see in the food system.
Her comments came as analysts at Bernstein cited an “overwhelming number of complaints on Impossible Foods' Facebook page about its inability to serve smaller restaurants, while prioritizing larger QSR chains,” as it struggled to keep up with unprecedented demand for its plant-based burgers.
“We don’t want to put people on quotas,” added Brian. “Procurement in this market is a source of competitive advantage and long term we think that leveraging Nestlé’s capabilities domestically and globally in procurement expertise will be very important.”
Formulation choices: Protein, texture
Asked why Sweet Earth had selected pea and wheat proteins as core materials for its new burgers and grounds (which will launch simultaneously), Kelly said the team had developed expertise with a variety of plant-based proteins from soy, corn, wheat and yellow peas to chickpeas and quinoa, but said the combination of pea and wheat delivered the taste and texture they were looking for, coupled with non-GMO credentials.
“Our customers are label readers so the GMO factor definitely played into the decision. We also wanted to be able to secure organic supply as well [there will be organic and conventional versions of the burgers and grounds].”
On the textural front, the combination of pea and wheat allows Sweet Earth to deliver “both a chewy and crumbly texture that people want from meat that stays juicy,” said Kelly, who said Sweet Earth had extensive experience working with seitan (wheat based protein) before the Nestlé acquisition in late 2017.
“We’re coming at this from a craft and culinary perspective. Wheat absorbs flavor and it holds that tenderness, juiciness, and lasting flavor.”
Ingredients list, Awesome Burger: Water, textured pea protein, coconut oil, vital wheat gluten, canola oil, methylcellulose, natural flavors, fruit and vegetable juice for color, white distilled vinegar, dried malted barley extract, dried vinegar, rice wine vinegar, cultured corn starch, sea salt, salt, ascorbic acid.Beyond Burger (4oz): 20g protein, 20g fat, 5g sat fat, 3g fiber, 380mg sodium, 270 calories. Key ingredient: Pea protein isolate
- Awesome Burger (4oz): 28g protein, 17g fat, 8g sat fat, 6g fiber, 400mg sodium, 290 calories. Key ingredient: Textured pea protein
- Beyond Burger (4oz): 20g protein, 20g fat, 5g sat fat, 3g fiber, 380mg sodium, 270 calories. Key ingredient: Pea protein isolate
- Impossible Burger (4oz): 19g protein, 14g fat, 8g sat fat, 3g fiber, 370mg sodium, 240 calories. Key ingredient: Soy protein concentrate
- Uncut burger (4oz): 18g protein, 19g fat, 8g sat fat, 5g fiber, 150mg sodium, 260 calories. Key ingredient: Soy protein concentrate
- McDonald’s Quarter Pounder 100% Beef Patty: 20g protein, 18g fat, 8g sat fat, 0g fiber, 190mg sodium, 240 calories. Key ingredient: Beef
- 80:20 raw beef (per USDA database): 19g protein, 22.6g fat, 8.6g sat fat, 0g fiber, 75g sodium, 290 calories. Key ingredient: Beef
A grilled beefy flavor
The color is delivered via a proprietary blend of vegetable and fruit extracts, said Kelly. “Our burger undergoes an extraordinary transformation during the cooking process and it looks really fresh. We also benefited from some of the work that Nestlé did in Europe on the Incredible Burger on this.”
On the flavor front, the Awesome Burger “has beefy and savory umami notes but also grilled notes and a positive finish,” she said. And these can be delivered without using heme (the secret sauce in the Impossible Burger), she insisted. “We worked with a variety of natural sources to really deliver that grilled beefy flavor.”
The size of the plant-based meat prize
Asked whether it was reasonable to assume that plant-based meats would capture the same share of the market as plant-based milks, (c.13%) Kelly said she saw no reason why not, although the dynamics are different in the former market (where lactose intolerance and milk protein allergies factor into choices coupled with calorie counting and a desire for new flavors).
“The big move in that category came when products went off the dry shelf into the refrigerated section [where they sat alongside fresh dairy milk].”
Brian added: “For me, the question is not whether it’s going to happen, just when. All you have to do is go to a university and talk to the freshman class and talk to how many of them are interested in these products.”
The curiosity factor
Another element that shouldn’t be overlooked is the curiosity factor, said Brian, who said Sweet Earth’s Moss Landing CA production facility was being developed as a center of excellence for plant-based protein production within the Nestlé USA operation.
Despite the fact that they have been on the market for decades, many meat eaters are trying plant-based meat for the first time in 2019 because they’ve read about the Beyond Burger or the Impossible Burger in the media, and if manufacturers can deliver something that’s just as compelling as a regular beef burger from a taste and texture perspective, they have a unique opportunity to capture new customers, he said.
But the move towards plant-based is not just about meat mimicry, but encouraging consumers to eat a wider variety of plants in the diet, he added: “Right now this particular segment of the plant-based foods market is getting an immense amount of press, but there will be many segments in the movement.
“It’s not just about burgers. There are many different ways to win in this emerging space.”