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Facts and myths about alternative beef products

Tom J Bechman cooked samples of plant-based meat alternatives
PLANT-BASED BURGERS: Two Franklin FFA members cooked and compared ground chuck (left) to plant-based alternatives, Beyond Beef and Impossible Burgers.
Local ag students dive into pluses and minuses of plant-based meats.

Two vo-ag students who are also Franklin FFA members in Indiana went behind the scenes of plant-based meat alternatives to discover facts and myths about these products. Inspired by Burger King’s Impossible Whopper, featuring the Impossible Burger, made with soy protein, Mary Armstrong and Morgan Wade turned their quest into an FFA demonstration.

These weren’t just two high school seniors who searched the internet and made a poster. They bought the products, cooked and tasted them, and conducted a legitimate consumer test panel using 20 members of a vo-ag class taught by Alicia Geesey. Allison Bechman, a food scientist with Coca-Cola, Atlanta, who specializes in consumer research, provided guidance to the students.

Tom J. BechmanMorgan Wade peels open the container of Beyond Beef

DIFFERENCES IN APPEARANCE: Morgan Wade peels open the container of Beyond Beef. Note the difference in consistency, versus the open package of ground chuck on the counter.

“We realize these products could be competition for dollars now spent on beef and other meats, and we wanted to see if a cowboy really would prefer an Impossible Burger, like the commercial says,” Wade said. After conducting their own tasting panel, she said she wonders about “truth in advertising.”

Facts vs. myths

Here are some truths and possible misconceptions this pair of students uncovered:

Fact. High school students still like real beef. In their test, 60% of the students presented with three random samples of equally sized burgers chose real beef as the best. Evaluated on six different factors, including taste, the Impossible Burger, purchased at a local store, scored higher than regular beef in only one category — juiciness. The students tested two types of alternate meat: Impossible Burgers and Beyond Beef.

Myth. Alternative plant-based meats are healthier in every category. Ground chuck yielded slightly more fat after cooking than both plant-based alternatives, although the differences were not large, Wade says. However, Beyond Beef contained over three times as much sodium as ground chuck and the Impossible Burger had about five times as much, Armstrong says. That could be a concern for people with conditions such as high blood pressure who need to control salt intake.

Myth. Alternative meats are cost competitive. Armstrong purchased Impossible Burgers at a central Indiana grocery store at $12 per pound. Beyond Beef plant-based meat cost her $11 per pound. Ground chuck was just over $5 per pound. Prices may vary based on region and store.

“The packaging for Impossible Burgers was impressive,” Wade adds. “Maybe that’s why it costs so much more.”

Fact. Plant-based meat alternative companies did their homework. The reason some people believe soy-protein based Impossible Burgers have a similar taste to real beef is because they contain heme, a compound also found in beef, Bechman says. To obtain heme, the product includes soy root material containing nodules with nitrogen-fixing bacteria.

Beyond Beef, on the other hand, does not contain heme. One of the chief ingredients in Beyond Beef is protein from peas.

Fact. Some people will choose non-meat options. Armstrong discovered that most people trying plant-based meat alternatives are not vegans. And 40% of the panelists chose one of the two plant-based, non-meat burgers over beef.

Jayson Lusk, Purdue University head of Ag Economics and a food industry analyst, recently noted that while plant-based meat alternatives currently have a very low share of the market, far under 1%, it’s growing. He notes that some projections show it growing to 5% to 10% within five years, and some project it could grow even more over time.

Editor’s note: Allison Bechman is the author’s daughter.

TAGS: FFA Marketing
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