Fake Meat Costs Real Money

March 3, 2020

High costs are keeping analogue meats from taking off.

Apparently fake hamburgers are getting into a real price war.

Impossible Foods, which developed the iconic Impossible Burger (if “iconic” can be applied to a product that’s only been around for about a year), announced this week that it’s dropping prices by 15%. The proximate cause for this is the presence by big processors like Cargill, Tyson and Nestlé in the market. The fear is that they’ll use their superior volume capacities to drive prices down – something that’s already happening in some corners of the foodservice market.

But that’s just part of a bigger picture: Plant-based analogue meat is just too damned expensive.

The Impossible Whopper, for instance, costs $1 more than a regular Burger King Whopper, in a market where make-or-break price points are measured in nickels and dimes. And the problem is that there just aren’t enough people willing to pay the difference.

Nutritionally, most analogue meat really isn’t much better for you than the real thing. Both Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat have more calories, fat and sodium than lean ground beef (although none of the cholesterol).

Between that and the higher price, the only reason to eat plant-based meat analogue products, beyond initial curiosity, is if you are against eating meat on principle. That’s what motivated Pat Brown, the brilliant Stanford biochemist who founded Impossible Foods; he says openly that his long-term goal is to make meat obsolete.

There are certainly people who passionately share that goal, but I don’t think there are enough of them to make for economic viability. At the end of their article about the fake meat price wars, the Wall Street Journal quoted a guy who echoed my thinking exactly: “I don’t feel it’s worth paying more to eat Impossible Whoppers. I’m not a vegetarian.”