The plant-based burger could be sold in grocery stores as soon as September 2019.
The Beyond Burger has long enjoyed a monopoly on plant-based burgers in the freezer section of certain American grocery stores, but it will soon face some stiff competition from its main rival, the Impossible Burger. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has just approved a petition submitted by Impossible Foods to recognize its colorant soy leghemoglobin as safe for consumption, which was the final hurdle remaining for the burgers to be sold in stores across the country.
The Impossible Burger is known for its famous bloody look and iron-rich taste, which makes it closer to real beef than other plant-based substitutes. The substance that gives this effect is heme, which occurs naturally in beef but that Impossible sources from yeast in the form of soy leghemoglobin. While heme in beef is "generally recognized as safe" by the FDA, heme from soy leghemoglobin was not – that is, until July 31 when approval came through. Bloomberg reports,
"Red in hue, [heme] hadn’t previously been formally approved as a safe color additive, meaning retailers couldn’t let individual consumers purchase the uncooked product the way they can buy and bring home raw Beyond Meat patties."
This meant that Impossible Foods was limited to selling to restaurants, which it has been doing for several years, with recent major expansions to all Burger King franchises and several Little Caesar's pizza joints.
This is an important milestone for the plant-based meat industry, as it now allows for more rapid expansion and broader market reach. While plant-based meats are still a minuscule fraction of the animal meat industry, interest is growing quickly as more people understand the environmental consequences, health concerns, and ethical issues with livestock production.
With nutritional profiles that nearly match that of real meat, and far less of an ecological impact, products such as the Impossible Burger are an appealing alternative, and it's exciting to think that they'll soon be more accessible.