Second of three parts –
Rina Raphael of FastCompany visited Beyond Meat’s analytical lab which seeks to match non-meat with beef’s taste. Her report on the tour in the Los Angeles plant continues:
“Later during my facility tour, Daniel Ryan, Beyond Meat’s director of chemistry, works with the ‘E-nose’ aroma inspector. The machine isolates more than 1,000 molecules in animal and plant matter to factor which contribute to smell and taste. It doesn’t sample meat, rather the air that surrounds pieces of meat inside tiny vials.
“Ryan then tries to match it to molecules similar in the plant kingdom, everything from parsley to fennel. He handles tiny glass bottles marked with descriptions like ‘meaty,’ ‘gamey,’ ‘roasted,’ and ‘fatty.’ The goal? Recreate the exact sensory experience of a classic steakhouse. ‘It’s a continuous process,’ said Ryan, adding, ‘a lifetime’s work.’
“One of the key differentiators of Beyond Meat is the texture and meaty chew of its products. This work begins at a microscopic level as the team analyzes the architecture of meat using sophisticated imaging equipment.
“Brown credits the research team’s unique mishmash of backgrounds, biochemistry, biophysics, plant science, health care, tech, and chemistry, to the nine-year-old company’s success. In fact, the founder didn’t particularly seek out food science development experts. Innovation, said Brown, is best served by scientific diversity.
‘“We needed to invest in science technology to fundamentally understand meat, its composition and architecture and to rebuild it from plants,’ Brown said. The old system wasn’t going to cut it: ‘We expect a bunch of chefs and food scientists to solve a massive global problem, which is supplying protein to seven billion people.’
The Manhattan Beach Project:
“With that came the need to expand its R&D, at which point Beyond Burgers took over an old airport hangar in El Segundo, 10 times the size of its previous lab space. It was dubbed ‘The Manhattan Beach Project’ in reference to its location (it’s near SoCal’s Manhattan Beach) and the WWII atomic bomb research. (Brown is a big fan of Richard Rhodes Pulitzer prize-winning book The Making of the Atomic Bomb.)
“Brown sees the facility gathering a group of scientists, engineers, and researchers for a very clear goal: To save humanity from its destructive animal consumption. A study by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that red meat production releases 10 to 40 times as many greenhouse gas emissions as common vegetables and grains.
“Beyond Meat constantly tweaks its bestselling burger–the brand plans to soon release its third iteration. Brown wants newer versions each year because he thinks it can always be more meat-like–and may keep competitors at bay.
“But like Coca-Cola’s new-formula fiasco, are there drawbacks of changing a recipe that’s already amassed millions of fans? The El Segundo quarters feature a sensory lab for blind-tasting capabilities. The controlled environment blocks out smell, noise, basically anything that might distract an eater.
“Testers don’t necessarily hold the final call. When readying the latest version, results showed they preferred the original burger. Brown is pushing ahead regardless because ‘it’s better,’ he said, ‘by any reasonable standards. I’m convinced something went wrong with the test.’
“Constant tweaking isn’t simple for a company that refuses to incorporate gluten or Genetically Modified Organisims (GMO)s, which competitors like the Impossible Burger rely on. “We make our scientists’ lives very difficult,” concedes Brown.
“Beyond Meat refuses the controversial ingredients because it wants to position itself as a healthy food company, one that consumers can feel comfortable consuming three times a day. It promotes its healthier leanings first and foremost in its ad campaigns. Among its global ambassadors are athletes from the NBA, WNBA, MLB, and World Surf League. Several years ago, it hired Jeff Manning, the acclaimed architect of the iconic ‘Got Milk?’ campaign.
“‘Can we market it in a way that makes it cool to eat our products, versus an obligation,’ said Brown.
“Not that it’s a hard sell: Consumer demand for transparency quickly transformed the food industry, with 75% of shoppers now examining products prior to purchase, according to a study by Label Insight. Overall, Americans increasingly look to incorporate wellness: Nielsen reports that 88% of consumers will pay more for healthier foods.
Continued next week
Second of three parts –