Jordan: Hey it’s Jordan. If you live in Toronto or Vancouver, and I see stats so I know a lot of you do, you are probably familiar with the feeling of never being caught up on local news. Fortunately, we have a way to sift out the noise, it’s the AM Need To Know newsletter, and it comes from 680 News in Toronto and from News 1130 in Vancouver. And these are our all news stations, and they get you set for the day with weather, and traffic, and the stories everybody’s going to be talking about, and they do it in your inbox first thing every morning for free. You can get the Toronto version at 680news.com/nee to know, and the Vancouver version at citynews1130.com/needtoknow.
Jordan: Veggie burgers, and veggie hot dogs, and other meat substitutes have been around for a long time, and with apologies for my own journalistic bias, I have always found them disgusting. But last year, something changed.
News Clip: They’ve got a prime spot in the meat section at this Montreal grocery store, but these burgers are entirely meat free, beyond meat. Is 100% plant based protein. No way? Like no meat? Tastes exactly like meat. Not plant? What plant?
Jordan: Maybe it was the relentless browbeating from all sides telling me that my love of red meat was helping destroy humanity. Maybe it was the marketing promise of a better meat alternative. Maybe it was because a restaurant that shall remain nameless for now, brought a tray of them into our newsroom and gave me a free one. Okay two, I went back for seconds. Either way, I tried beyond meat and it wasn’t bad. It tasted like meat, and within a few months it was everywhere. It is now available at two of the most quintessentially Canadian fast food chains, it’s stock is tearing up the index, it’s brand has become synonymous with imitation meat in a way that Kleenex is with tissue, or Jacuzzi is with hot tubs. How did we reached that tipping point, and where is it likely to go from here? And even more interesting, how is it that an innocuous little yellow P came to be an integral part of the fake meat creation process, and has given Canada a chance to become a world leader in a brand new and exploding industry?
Jordan: I’m Jordan Heath Rawlings and this is The Big Story. Jake Edmiston is a reporter at The Financial Post. He dug into both the branding and the success of Beyond Meat, but also the process that creates it. Hey Jake.
Jordan: First of all, because beyond some marketing campaigns I’m not sure that everybody has really dug into this. Tell us what exactly beyond meat is.
Jake: Beyond meat is one of several manufacturers of meat analogs or meat substitutes that; I would call it sort of the latest generation of veggie burger, basically, so they have gotten a lot of attention for basically being one of the most convincing meat substitutes.
Jordan: How does it stack up against its competitors, and why has it gotten so much buzz?
Jake: I think the main reason it’s gotten so much is because of its stock market debut that just completely exploded. I think it started at 25 in May, and it’s over 150 dollars now, U.S.
Jordan: Why was it so successful like, that’s what I’m trying to get at here because there’s a 1,000,000 of these things on the market and yet beyond meat’s managed to get into A&W, into Tim Hortons. It seems to be grabbing a lot of the non meat market share.
Jake: It’s funny you should mention, A&W cause A&W is something that comes up a lot when in their prospectus before they had their IPO beyond meat talks a lot about it, and A&W is basically one of the first big burger chains that takes the beyond meat hamburger. If you remember last summer it was sort of a massive success, they had huge sellouts, and I’ve actually done a bit of reporting on getting into why the sellouts happened, and it has to do with; not to get too far ahead of ourselves, but it has to do, a lot of it with Canada.
Jake: So what I think I was surprised to know was that beyond meat is made of, the main ingredient of beyond meat is yellow peas. Yellow peas are grown in abundance in Canada, there are also grown in Europe, and it’s not as easy as just mixing up yellow peas into a hamburger like it’s a ridiculously complicated science, but basically the people who take peas and turn them into hamburgers, these processing facilities just didn’t have enough pea protein.
Jordan: Well we’ll get into kind of how it’s made in a minute, because that’s one of the reasons that we wanted to have you on, because you’ve kind of dug into the entire story of these non meats. But first of all, when did you or the business reporting community in general realized that this IPO was going to be something huge, and that beyond meat had the support behind it to launch this successfully?
Jake: Basically we had been trying to get an interview with their CEO ahead of the IPO for weeks, like this was; We definitely knew it was coming, it was definitely a big deal. I think especially as a Canadian business reporter after what they did with A&W it was definitely on our radar.
Jordan: Where has the increasing demand for these kinds of products come from? Did they finally get good enough or is this kind of a trend that stretches way back?
Jake: I think it definitely stretches way back. Like when you look at what these hamburgers are, it goes back to, like, certain aspects of them go back, you know, to the middle of the 1900’s. But I think the uniqueness about these particular products is that they are not shy about what they’re trying to emulate, and they’re trying to emulate meat. They talk about blood, they talk about meatiness, they talk about all of those kinds of things. They’re not saying this is a veggie burger, this is a burger made of vegetables that taste like a burger.
Jordan: Like it’s for meat eaters?
Jake: Right. And that’s part of like; I don’t think beyond meat is the first to do it. I haven’t gone so deep into all of the other players that have been trying to accomplish this kind of thing, but that is basically what makes them stand out.
Jordan: And that’s the kind of market I guess that was; That was still open. You know, vegetarians are always gonna eat veggie substitutes, but if you can capture casual meat eaters.
Jake: Exactly, and vegetables are small portion of the market. Basically, they’re not playing on people’s preferences to not eat animal products, they’re playing on, it’s more of an environmental play.
Jordan: And everybody’s kind of had a veggie burger, or a veggie dog at one point back in the day, and I have, and then beyond meat A&W came into these studios when they were, you know, doing their whole marketing blitz with the A&W breakfast sandwich, the sausage, it was made with beyond meat, and it was hard to tell the difference, and as somebody who eats burgers, eats steak etc. that was a turning point for me when I realized that okay, if we substitute this, I won’t even really know. So what makes it so much different from the products that have gone before? And now is maybe when we can get into, like, what is actually in it that replicates meat so well?
Jake: To do that let’s talk about hummus first. Basically in, you know, the early 2000’s, hummus becomes a major consumer product. And you have… everybody seems to be eating hummus. Hummus is made from chickpeas, chickpeas is a pulse. Pulses are basically dried beans, peas, chickpeas they’re sort of a section of legumes. Chickpeas are a huge success story and food processors, as I’ve been told start looking at ok, well, if chickpea; If we overlook chickpeas and chickpeas, are this this cheap product that can be, with a little bit of effort made into a value added products like hummus, what else are we overlooking? So they’re looking at lentils, they’re looking at peas, they’re looking at dried beans, and that’s when all of this different kinds of research and development starts happening on you know what is a pea? And it’s starch, and it’s protein, and its fiber. So they threw a bunch of different techniques that can split it up, so they basically started with chickpeas, they start doing a lot of research on peas because peas are the cheapest. So they can take a pea, they could split it into into starch, and they have been doing it for a long time because pulse starches are really big in Asia in terms of making noodles and that kind of thing, so they’ve been doing that; Mashing up peas, and splitting it into its component parts for pet food…. a lot of it is now going into dairy substitutes, so when they take the pea and they split it into those three component parts it’s very, I don’t know how much your listeners want to actually hear about how they do it, but it’s actually fascinating.
Jordan: Yeah, well, I like to hear about fascinating.
Jake: Okay, if you think about proteins, it’s not just one kind of protein, there’s all different sorts of protein inside a pea. So what they can do is they can sift it out like you would do in a flour mill, basically, and that’s called Dry Fraction Nation Well where you’re just taking, you know, the proteins are one size, the fibers one size, the starches one size. This is probably, you know, if there’s any food senses that they’re probably screaming, but because it’s probably a drastic oversimplification, but so then you have, you know, you have the protein, you have the starch, but then, if you really want to get, and this is what these new producers are doing, and there’s all these different kinds of sort of advancements but if you want to really be able to pinpoint the protein, and have a really pure protein extract, you say okay, this type of protein is soluble in water, so we’re gonna mix it in water, and then we’re gonna pull out that one kind of protein. This one is ethanol, this one blah blah blah blah blah, right? You use different solvents to pull out the different proteins, and what you have is this really pure protein extract. They call it a protein isolate, so if you look on the back of some of these things, sometimes it’s protein isolate, pea protein isolate, lentil, protein concentrate, which means concentrates usually don’t use solvents it’s more that dry ratiocination, we have these different kinds of things. So then they take these really pure proteins, and they take them, and to this they call, they turn it into textured vegetable protein. This is what’s been going on for all of this time, this has been in veggie burgers for forever, but they’re getting better and better at doing it. So one of the food scientists explained to me that it’s like taking a bunch of play-doh, so you mix up this into like a dough, you mix up this protein, and it looks like a flower, mixed it into a dough, you put it into basically like one of those play-doh things where you squeeze the; You put it into a tube in the top, and you squeeze it down and it squirts it out. That’s basically what’s happening is they’re adding air to it, they’re pressurizing it, and it pops out into these kind of what looks basically like a muscle fiber, and then from there you have this textured vegetable protein that you can mix with all of these different kinds of additives, and this is sort of where a lot of ingenuity comes in. I’m sure some people might have heard about hem, which is I had a food scientist bristle at me for using this term, but it is basically vegetable blood, it’s used from; They found it in a root, it kind of sort of mimics hemoglobin, and what hemoglobin does in blood. So, and that gives it its iron taste…. anyway, so you have this textured vegetable protein, and they can cut it, and they can make it basically, he said it’s like making like a cheesy. So you just like pop it out, you could make in small, you make it large, you make it long, you can make it thin, fat. All of this might; My crazy rambling is to explain that there are all these different levers and buttons that these people can pull and push to say ok we want this kind of protein extract, we want this kind of extrusion, we want this kind of textured vegetable protein, we want to add this, we want to add that, and so they’ve been changing and tweaking all different kinds of things until they have something that tastes like a hamburger. So when I realize like, Oh, this is just I just thought when you think about like you make a black bean burger at home, it’s like you’re just mashing up a bunch of stuff and mixing it up and putting it on a barbecue. This is, like, so much more advanced, and I think that’s why; That’s where we’re at/
Jordan: And then it’s a competition amongst these companies to see who can pull the right levers, or add the right additives to produce their brand.
Jake: Right, yeah.
Jordan: Yeah. So if it all starts from pulses and we’re a major producer of that, what has been going on in the farming industry as the demand for this has risen? Is this a boom to Canadian farming?
Jake: From what I can tell, it isn’t big enough to supersede China, India, all of these major markets that have been buying our pulses for decades, but what is happening right now is hundreds of millions of dollars are going into Western Canada where they’re growing the pulses, to process them, to do those things, to do those kind of extractions and fracture nations.
Jordan: Right. So they’re capitalizing on it as building these products rather than just straight farming the vegetables.
Jake: Right, exactly, and of some comparison since it’s not a great comparison but it’s an okay comparison is to the oil industry where you know they don’t want to have this raw ingredient that goes somewhere else to be processed, and turned into a value add product before it’s sent back to us. Right? So that’s why there’s a lot of; There’s some federal government funding through a supercluster, which is; There’s several super clusters, but this one’s specifically focusing on developing plant based proteins. So basically right now are a lot of our peas go elsewhere to get processed into protein. A lot of companies are spending a lot of money to make sure that they’re processed here.
Jordan: When you talk to food scientists or people in the industry about this, what happens next? What’s the next step for this stuff?
Jake: Yeah. I’m so excited to write about this, but yes, steak.
Jordan: So tell me about it.
Jake: I don’t know enough about it, but apparently some people who have been at the forefront of all of the developments in this industry are that seems to be where they’re looking next.
Jordan: That’s like the holy grail of fake meat, right? Like what else is above that? That’s the highest priced, most revered etc. etc. if you can nail that.
Jake: But think about how long it took to do burgers, right? Like I don’t….
Jake: I feel like we’re going to be eating a lot of bad veggie steaks before that happens. But, you know, maybe not.
Jordan: Well there’s a whole other aspect to that too which is, you know, as somebody who eats red meat, I’ve felt guilty about it a lot in the last couple of years because we know now what it does for the environment, and does that provide a boost, or is that behind this shift, or is this just something that the technology finally got there?
Jake: That’s what the, like I don’t know if I can answer that question but the people who are spending a lot of money investing in this sector say is they don’t see this as a kind of a food trend. They see it as more of a preference shift, which is what they think is going to last a lot longer than, say, some fad where it will probably like survive longer than you know, one specific brand of hamburger.
Jordan: Well, yeah, I mean you’re business reporter, and you kind of look at market trends. Is there a tipping point to this, where it goes beyond kind of something new that some people are trying, you know? Look at that, it really does taste kind of like meat to a point where it’s, you know, every once in a while a certain brand will rise to the top of something and become synonymous with that product, right? Like Kleenex or whatever, and is there a tipping point anytime soon for these products, or beyond meat in particular for mass adoption?
Jake: I think we’re getting there. Just by judging from all of the pictures I get, which is beyond meat of x, the beyond meat of y, our brand is the beyond meat of whatever. So it does seem to have tapped in to a mainstream.
Jordan: What are those bitches like?
Jake: I don’t know. What’s the…. what’s the etiquette here?
Jordan: You don’t have to name anybody specifically but I bet that’s interesting because you’re on the cutting edge of this stuff.
Jake:It is interesting. It’s like, if you think about any kind of…. like I heard this one that I’m really interested in, which is beyond meat of pet food. It just seems like any packaged goods manufacturer is definitely very conscious of the fact, of how much buzz beyond meat has.
Jordan: In terms of the processing of this stuff and the money flowing into Western Canada, how big could it get if we handle it right, and we invest in it?
Jake: If you just look at what’s going on in with international trade, and what’s happening to specific Canadian industries, what some of the people who are in the processing sector saying is, you know you by taking your peas, and processing them locally, you’re kind of insulating yourself from a lot of the different, you know, volatile things that happen in international trade, because pea producers and pea traders, and pulse traders have been at the whims of India, and China, and different kinds of terrorism, and that kind of thing. So that’s one way that people in that industry are saying, okay, this is positive, this is becoming quickly a massive industry, and Canada has the opportunity to be the provider of one of the main ingredients in that industry.
Jordan: What’s the most fascinating thing you learned while reporting this stuff?
Jake: Oh my gosh, that’s a great question. Hearing about how they take a cow; Basically textured vegetable protein, blew my mind. This idea that that they can take a pea, and they can turn it into three different things, or way more than three different things, that is crazy to me. When they were telling me that basically they can; And this isn’t textured vegetable protein, I’ve moved on because it’s actually the idea of taking a pea and splitting it into different ingredients, I just never thought of it that way. If you if you go to the grocery store and you pick up one of those bags of split peas, and you think about that, not just…
Jordan: The pea?
Jake: Ya, it’s a bunch of different things and there’s people who have been for way longer than beyond meat, have been taking that and turning into a bunch of other things to send all over the world.
Jordan: Thank you for joining us. There is now, by the way, as we speak, today is day one of a beyond meat burger being offered in the Rogers cafeteria. So that’s how you know it reached the tipping point.
Jordan: Claire’s gonna go have it for lunch. Thanks, Jake.
Jake: Thank you.
Jordan: Jake Edmiston is a reporter with The Financial Post, and that was The Big Story, and back from lunch, Claire Broussard joins us. Claire, did you end up having the beyond meat burger?
Claire: I sure did.
Jordan: Tell me about it.
Jordan: So I think this has been in the cafeteria for like, two days now, and I ordered it and there was no one in line and I think I was like, the first person to order it because the guy making the burgers like had no idea what I was talking about when I asked for it.
Jordan: You’ve got this little sign right here.
Claire: I know, there’s a sign.
Jordan: The one on the sign.
Claire: I was like I’ll have the beyond meat vegan burger, it’s a vegan burger over here. He was like the what?. I was like this, and I had to point to the sign.
Jordan: But they made it for you.
Claire: They did.
Jordan: It’s one thing to be in a massive chain that does every burger or sandwich to their specifications, etc etc., it’s another thing when this stuff shows up in little cafeterias. So how does it compare to, like the A&W or Tim Hortons?
Claire: So the A&W one is definitely superior. But what I oddly really liked about this one was that it was on the grill for so long that it was kind of burned, and the burned kind of reminded me of like an actual beef.
Jordan: Like real meat!
Claire: Yeah, a burned patty, is a burned patty.
Jordan: There we go, Claire. Broussard, beyond meat connoisseur. If you want to tell us more about your experiences with beyond meat, we’d love to hear them, I swear. You can find us @thebigstoryfpn on Twitter, you can also subscribe for free for more riveting interviews like that one with Claire.
Claire: What’s also really creepy though, I just remembered it.
Claire: What’s also really kind of creepy is how much it looks like ground meat, like I took a bite out of it and, like, I guess I never really liked looked at the other burgers I’ve had. But I took a bite out of this one and I looked at it, and I wanted to take a picture and send it to people, like my non believer friends, because it, like, really looks like ground meat.
Jordan: That’s a step towards the future.
Claire: Sorry for interrupting.
Jordan: Anyway, we are wherever you get podcasts on Apple, Google, Stitcher or Spotify. Leave us a rating, leave us a review, tell us that Claire should host the show instead of me. Thanks for listening, I’m Jordan Heath Rawlings. We’ll talk tomorrow.
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