Meatless Beyond and Impossible Burgers Appearing All Over LBI Menus

Plant-Based Meat Substitutes a Hit With Herbivores, Omnivores
By JON COEN | Sep 18, 2019
Photo by: Jack Reynolds

Long Beach Island — Dan Taylor of the G. Anderson Agency in Haven Beach developed an allergy to most types of meats in 2001. Taylor was the board president of The Hunger Foundation Of Southern Ocean County for a decade and remains active with the non-profit. The group does several fundraising dinners, and at meeting last year, Taylor was discussing a menu with Island chef John Grifo.

Grifo is best known as a local chef. He spent years creating amazing menus and running kitchens of some of the most well-known local eateries. He understands culinary trends. Today, he is a representative in the food industry, working for a product broker, representing several brands to such distributers as US Foods, Chef’s Warehouse and Driscoll, often working directly with restaurant owners. Taylor mentioned his food allergy to Grifo, who had him try the Impossible Burger.

“Red meat and pork have not been part of my diet for the last 18 years. That’s not by choice,” said Taylor, “What I really missed was a good burger, and this product allows me to enjoy it again.”

Grifo represents Impossible Foods, a vegan burger of primarily soy protein concentrate and coconut oil. It’s one of two plant-based burgers that have created some big changes to our country’s food industry. And this summer, the Impossible Burger and its rival, the non-GMO-certified Beyond Meat, had a palpable impact on LBI.

“It’s made with heme, which comes from plants,” said Grifo. (In the case of Impossible Burgers, it comes from yeast.) “That’s what people love. It feels like meat. It bleeds like meat,” he added.

The Impossible Burger was first introduced in 2017 after six years of development. Beyond Meat began by selling a mock chicken product in 2013 and then a vegan burger in 2014 made primarily of pea protein isolate with beet juice to give it a reddish color. Like most other meat-free products, they took off in metropolitan areas and then started showing up on LBI menus in 2018 and at Pangaea Natural Foods Market on Bay Avenue in Manahawkin. White Castle’s Impossible Slider became hugely popular.

Local supermarkets started carrying Beyond Meat Burgers in 2018. However, they were sold in the meat section near the actual beef and not the traditional meatless section of the supermarket  in order to entice meat eaters rather than just vegans and vegetarians.

“I’ve been in a lot of meetings with the Impossible Foods people, and the target market is people who want to eat less meat,” said Grifo. “This tastes like meat. It’s crazy how ‘meat’-like it is. And a lot of customers are trying it. Wally’s in Surf City was the first to have it. Buckalew’s added it to their menu last year. Octopus’s Garden uses it for a bolognese.”

The Terrace Tavern served Beyond Meat sausages with a marinara sauce and sautéed onions. The Boatyard, Woodies Drive-In, Bird and Betty’s, Carol’s Organic Eatery and several others offered their own delicious versions of the Beyond Burger.

Mike Tomko and his wife moved from California and opened Wally’s in Surf City in 2014. From the start they offered a meat substitute brand called Gardein. They now have 18 vegan meals on the menu and were the first to carry the Impossible Burger locally.

“People just couldn’t believe it was plant-based, but it’s such a clean way to eat,” said Tomko. “My wife, Jess, is a vegan and I was a dedicated meat eater, but I was exposed to so many different foods in California that I’ve been eating a lot more plant-based. Originally it wasn’t about the morality. It was just so much healthier. But now I’m starting to see the moral value of eating less meat.”

There is significant agreement among doctors that plant-based diets are healthier. Many nutritionists have debunked the claim that vegetarians don’t get enough protein. The Beyond Burger has 20 grams of protein, and the Impossible Burger has 19.

Science shows it’s far better for the planet than the harms of factory farming, particularly the beef industry. And for folks who love animals, no furry or feathered friends have to die for their lunch. Beyond Meat has an entire roster of ambassadors that includes California surfer Tia Blanco, NBA All-Star Kyrie Irving and Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, promoting not just Beyond Burgers, but also the advantages of a plant-based diet.

Living on the Veg, LBI’s long-standing vegan café, does not serve the Beyond or Impossible Burger. Its owners pride themselves on homemade products and make almost everything from scratch, including their seitan and tempeh offerings.

“We think it’s wonderful that there are vegan options almost everywhere you go now,” said owner and cook Lauren Ramos. “The Impossible and Beyond Burgers seem to be geared toward meat eaters. As a vegan, the idea of a plant-based burger that ‘bleeds’ or has a ‘meaty’ texture isn’t very appealing. But hopefully it’s reason enough for meat eaters to periodically substitute their diet and ultimately on people’s health and the environment.”

This summer presented a bit of a bump in the road for restaurants carrying the Impossible Burger, however, when Burger King started offering the Impossible Whopper in certain cities and suddenly independently owned restaurants couldn’t get the plant-based patty. Even White Castle marked them unavailable.

Impossible Foods never fully committed to the story, but it seemed that to fill the rapid demand at Burger King, there simply wasn’t enough faux meat available for anyone else all summer.

“They went to a great extent to keep their loyal base,” said Tomko. “They sent stacks of stickers for the menus and table tents that said the Impossible Burger would be back. They sent me coupon codes, and now we’re going to get them back.”

But this created a huge demand for the Beyond Burger. Beyond Meat’s stock went public at $25 a share at the end of May and jumped to $235 by July. It has since leveled out, but the popularity of both burgers is still on the rise.

“We just couldn’t get it,” Grifo said. “A lot of the business owners got mad that they couldn’t keep up this summer and made the switch to Beyond. We were just able to start getting it to the local eateries again in late August, and we had to deliver it in big bricks (similar to ground beef). It was more work for them to make patties in the kitchen. But people are starting to come around now.”

Another issue is the price. When Tomko looks at his order forms, his most expensive item is smoked salmon, at $15.31 per pound. At $255 for a 20-pound case, the Impossible Burger block is $12.75 per pound compared to $2.87 pound for ground beef. Burger King and the other franchises can negotiate much better deals.

But when the Impossible Burger came back, it was an updated version that is gluten free and has improved nutrition. Grifo noted that it also won’t stick to a char-broil grill.

He added that it’s not just burgers. Beyond has the Burger, Beyond Beef Plant-Based Ground, Beyond Sausage and Beyond Beef Crumbles. Consumers are hoping competition will bring the price down.

And as three national fast food chains blew up social media at the end of summer arguing over who has the best chicken sandwich, KFC did a test of a new Beyond Fried Chicken at one of its Atlantic locations, and it sold out in five hours. Beyond Foods has initiated partnerships with Del Taco, Carl’s Jr., Subway and Dunkin’ Donuts. Impossible Foods are now available at Burger King, Little Caesars and Red Robin.

“It’s going to keep expanding to tacos, meatballs and pizza toppings,” said Grifo.

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