Plant-based protein company Beyond Meat is continuing its march down the meat aisle.
The El Segundo, Calif.-based startup is beginning the roll out of its plant-based sausage product—dubbed Beyond Sausage—with its launch today at a restaurant in a Boulder, Colo. Whole Foods. The next stage in its distribution will be announced in January, the company says.
Beyond Meat started working on its sausage product a year ago, but CEO Ethan Brown says the new item actually “captures the work that’s been going on for the previous nine years.”
“This is part of the continuum for us,” Brown. “It’s really been a mantra for us that we want to relentlessly and rapidly innovate.”
Beyond Meat is best known for its plant-based burger, and Brown says the company decided to go after a pork sausage next because of what he sees as consumers’ health concerns about processed meat. Products like hamburger and sausage are also easier to mimic because they’re ground, so the company doesn’t need to imitate the complex structure of, say, a sirloin or a chop.
“We just always want our product to be indistinguishable,” Brown says. “This is one I felt we could get closer to the animal equivalent than other categories.”
Beyond Meat is part of a growing cadre of startups that are attempting to make meat without animals to answer concerns about animal welfare, the environment, and health.
While plant-based alternatives have been around for decades, a cohort of this new generation of companies—including Beyond Meat—is using food tech to get plants to more closely replicate the taste and texture of animal protein.
To attract non-vegans and –vegetarians, Beyond Meat’s burger product is sold in the meat case of mainstream supermarkets like Kroger (kr). “We try to create products for people who eat meat,” explains Brown.
He says that one of the biggest challenges in creating a plant-based sausage was its varied bite. A sausage isn’t homogenous, Brown explains, since it’s made up of the different parts of muscle and fat within the animal. To recreate the sausage texture, the R&D team used a mixture of peas, fava beans, and rice. The Beyond Sausage also contains beet, paprika, and coconut oil.
Another head-scratcher for Beyond Meat’s scientists was how to replicate a sausage’s casing, which is usually made of animal intestine. It naturally folds back on itself—a quality that gives sausages their curved shape, Brown explains. It’s also semi-permeable, allowing some, but not all, of the fat to be released when cooking. “It’s an amazing material,” he adds.
As a solution, the Beyond Meat team decided to use alginate, a substance contained within algae. Brown says it’s decent but not perfect yet. To recreate the sausage’s curve, the company is going to sell the product in molded trays.
Beyond Meat will serve the sausage in three flavors: bratwurst, sweet Italian, and hot Italian. The product has no cholesterol and has 43% less total fat, 38% less saturated fat, and 26% less sodium than the animal-based equivalent.
Earlier this month, the startup announced that it had closed another round of funding from investors including Tyson Foods (tsn) and Cleveland Avenue. The company plans to use the money to expand its product portfolio and distribution.