Remember when a veggie burger was that semi-shriveled, odd-colored frozen patty made with ingredients you couldn’t quite pronounce? Happily, those days are long gone. Today, one of the most promising areas in the food and beverage industry is plant-based alternatives. Whether it be uncovering alternative proteins, using technology to mimic the taste of meat, or discovering new ways to process seeds and nuts, plant-based foods are growing big.
But rather than scraping together whatever ingredients and preservatives that qualify as vegetarian to churn out a product, food and beverage makers are seeking to make plant-based alternatives that come as close to classic American dishes as possible, so no one has to go without their favorite comfort food. These days Impossible Burger, Beyond Meat, Nuggs, and similar companies are creating meat substitutes in labs that look, smell, taste, and even cook like the real thing.
And indeed, it’s big business. Disruptive replacement companies have raised an incredible $1.5 billion dollars in funding through the first half of this year. Danone, Kraft Heinz, Mars, and Tyson Foods have all backed plant-based alternatives of one type or another over the past year.
Now a new study shows that one third of consumers are currently eliminating or reducing animal products in their diet, and one fourth of consumers say they are “plant curious” and would like to try such a food product. Thanks to this rising consumer demand, among other things, emerging companies, investors, and big food are all aligned on creating a more efficient, less harmful food system. Furthermore, the better the innovation gets, and the more the prices come down, the more consumers jump on board this new food alternative, creating a cycle to really get excited about.
Yet despite the rapid rise in emerging plant-based food companies, demand is actually ahead of supply, and we are only at the beginning. There’s also the question of what plant-based food entails. Is it lab-grown food? Or is it new ways of processing plants? For now, it encompasses both but with each faction determined to create a food that’s better for you and better for the earth.
So who’s doing what in the plant-based space? We looked at over 80 brands, searching for companies that are best representing some of America’s most popular and iconic food choices— from tacos to burgers to going to the butcher and sitting down with a deli sandwich. This group of brands represents the leaders in cutting edge plant-based alternatives that one day, very soon, will be what you’re grabbing from the shelves…by choice.
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PLANT-BASED USA: WHO TO WATCH RIGHT NOW
AKUA: Courtney Boyd Myers and her team have been touting the benefits and unique uses of their sustainable snack, Kelp Jerky, since 2017. For instance, did you know Akua kelp jerky can be used a taco seasoning? Yes, it’s legit. Read more about Courtney’s founder journey here and watch the Akua takeover on our Instagram here.
BARVECUE: Described as a plant-based twist on a traditional southern ritual, Barvecue offers up pulled and wood-smoked barbecue-style meat with original BVC sauce. These North Carolina makers sell direct from their website (with 2-day shipping) as well as in specialty stores through the U.S.
CORE AND RIND: Nachos, disrupted. It sounds impossible, but Core and Rind’s cashew-based cheesy sauces are both creamy and dairy-free. Not to mention they have a three-year shelf life. Aside from being available in Whole Foods Midwest and Erewhon stores in Los Angeles, Core and Rind is also available online. Watch our recent Instagram Live session with co-founder Candi Haas here.
GOOD CATCH: While meat and poultry alternatives often steal the spotlight, Good Catch reminds us that plant-based fish is another smart way to save the earth, its oceans, creatures and resources. Their robust product list includes three types of plant-based tuna, along with fish burgers, crab cakes, fish cakes, and Thai-style fish cakes. A part of the Gathered Foods Corporation, Good Catch is found in Whole Foods and online at Amazon, Target, and Walmart.
HOORAY FOODS: Giving us something to cheer about in the mornings, Hooray Foods makes plant-based bacon that they swear looks, cooks and tastes like the real thing. The San Francisco-based company is hard at work to get their tasty “facon” into physical stores but for now, you can order it at The Plant Café when visiting the Bay Area.
IMPOSSIBLE FOODS: Ground beef made from plants is no longer impossible, thanks to Impossible Foods. Their Impossible Burger (which varies slightly in ingredients compared to Beyond Burgers) is found on the plant-based shelves in grocery stores and has even popped up in Burger King locations in the U.S. You can now order Impossible Burgers directly to your home. And given the company’s name has Foods in it, we fully expect more plant-based products coming soon.
JUST INC: Eggs for breakfast is as American as burgers for dinner but now you can have the eggs without the chicken. And the eggs really. The Just Egg is made from mung bean plants and colored with tumeric powder to give it that goldeny egg color. It works much like whisked egg yolks, scramble it, serve with toast, put in a sandwich, add to pad thai, or wherever else you’d normally use an egg. Order it through Amazon or pick it up in the egg section of your grocery store.
MIYOKO’S CREAMERY: Cheese is a universal love although not necessarily a universal health benefit. So Miyoko’s flipped the script by swapping dairy for organic plant-based foods like nut and legumes and combining age-old cheesemaking techniques with modern technology to produce vegan cheeses and butters. You can easily find these in the butter and cheese section at the grocery store or shop it all online.
MRS. GOLDFARB’S UNREAL DELI: A real reuben sandwich from a New York-style deli is hard to resist, but thanks to Mrs. Goldfarb’s Unreal Deli vegetarians and vegans can replicate that toasty goodness with their plant-based meats—corn’d beef or roasted turk’y. Backed by a family history of deli-preneurs, Jenny Goldfarb makes it possible for everyone to enjoy a loaded up deli sandwich. Buy the meats online or pop into one of these old school delis to add into your meal.
NEW WAVE FOODS: What a world we live in where we can buy shrimp that’s 100% plant-based, sustainable, and cholesterol-free (and soon-to-be kosher.) Even better, it cooks and tastes like real shrimp thanks to a sustainably farmed ocean seaweed, minus all that business of peeling and deveining. Currently sold to foodservice, we wouldn’t be surprised if New Wave swims up to store shelves soon.
NO EVIL FOODS: Might these be the new Avengers of food? No Evil Foods put out plant-based versions of chicken, chorizo, pulled pork, and Italian sausage, each made with big flavor, packaged in compostable cartons, and branded with do-gooder ferocity. Find them in grocery stores around the U.S. or have them shipped directly to your home.
NUGGS: Chicken nuggets get a bad rap for very valid reasons, but Nuggs, the self-described “Tesla of chicken”, has engineered a nugget that’s better for you, better for the earth, and obviously, better for the chickens. Nuggs uses a soy protein technology that mimics, the texture and flavor of a chicken nugget. Yet while it’s mascot is an actual chicken, the company doesn’t shy away from touting its high-tech process. Order online and have them shipped right to your door.
PAN’S MUSHROOM JERKY: Mushrooms are known to have a meat-like flavor when cooked a certain way but they are also natural sources of vitamins, fiber, and antioxidants, which is why they are the superstar ingredient in Pan’s Mushroom Jerky. Pan’s has rounded out their jerky options to include four different flavors to satisfy different jerky hankerings. Find them in Whole Foods and other markets as well as online on Amazon, Thrive Market, and their very own website.
SPERO: Sunflower seeds aren’t just for snacking, they’re for spreading. Spero uses an exclusive technology process that transforms sunflower seeds into a cream cheese alternative made with just six ingredients. And now there are six different flavors to choose from such as herb, cinnamon and even goat cheese. Spero is looking to use their technology to make other dairy alternatives but for now, you can order Spero online or seek them out in Whole Foods and other specialty markets.
THE HERBIVOROUS BUTCHER: Meat-free meatloaf? Fresh cuts of filet mignon? Smoky BBQ ribs? Maple-cured bacon and sausage? Yep, you’ll find it all at The Herbivorous Butcher in Minneapolis, MN. The brother-sister team behind the shop combine their upbringing, experience in the kitchen and passion for vegan living to make meat and diary alts that taste and look like the real deal. Not in Minneapolis? No worries. They ship nationwide! Order online.
WONDERLAB DOOZY POTS: Gelato gets a plant-based upgrade! A food scientist by trade, Wonderlab Doozy’s founder Kirsten Sutaria is bringing together her expertise and passion for plant-based, sustainable nutrition with her line of hemp & oat-based desserts. Check out Kirsten’s takeover on the Foodboro IG stories for a behind-the-scenes look at the brand. You can find Wonderlab’s products in select retailers across the country.
Plant curious? Check out these additional reads:
- The Coming Obsolescence of Animal Meat (The Atlantic)
- Feeding Bill Gates a Fake Burger… to save the world (YouTube)