It may be a tad bit hyperbolic for Patrick Brown, the CEO of plant-based meat alternative company Impossible Foods, to declare the real meat industry will disappear within 15 years, but new buying trends data does indicate the faux meat mania the industry is currently experiencing is in no danger of fading any time soon.
No choice but to order out
Leading e-commerce research company Edison Trends analyzed actual food purchase receipts from some 4,700 online transactions from third-party delivery apps such as Uber Eats, DoorDash, and GrubHub and found, unsurprisingly, that online orders for delivery soared during the pandemic.
With restaurants forced to close their dining rooms to help contain the spread of COVID-19, only takeout and delivery were available to consumers. The market researchers found that food delivery apps saw an 87% jump in sales between March 9 and April 13, and they've continued to remain elevated ever since.
While that has been a lifeline for much of the restaurant industry to help offset the loss of sitdown sales, consumers still had plenty of choice in what they ordered and Edison Trends found that in the two week period between March 2 and March 16, plant-based meat alternatives were quite popular.
Sales soared 91% for the period, and in the 11 weeks after March 23, faux meat sandwiches sales are still running hot, averaging 72% more than they were in the 11 weeks prior.
Although the Edison Trends analysis included plant-based alternatives from a broad spectrum of manufacturers, including Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods, ConAgra's Gardein, Field Roast, and Tyson Foods Raised & Rooted, among others, it's Impossible Foods that looks like the big winner.
An impossible lead
The researchers found that in the fast-food space, Restaurant Brands International's (QSR -2.81%) Burger King chain was far and away the biggest seller of plant-based meat alternatives with White Castle and Carl's Jr. distantly tied for second place with just 4% of the sales recorded by Burger King.
It is, of course, Impossible Foods that supplies Burger King with the Impossible Whopper, and it also supplies White Castle with its Impossible Sliders. Beyond Meat supplies Carl's Jr.'s Beyond Famous Star burger.
In the fast-casual space, Beyond Meat seems to have edged out Impossible Foods but not by much. Privately-held Veggie Grill was the top faux meat seller, and it partnered with Beyond Meat several years ago to supply its burgers. However, Gardein is also a key alternative protein provider to the Santa Monica-based chain.
The runner-up, with only 6% fewer online sandwich sales than Veggie Grill, was BurgerFi, and it gets its plant-based burgers from Impossible Foods. Other fast casual chains with significant sales in this category include Gott's Roadside, Umami Burger, and Dog Haus.
Faux proteins are here to stay
And now we might see Impossible Foods begin to pull further away from the pack. Even as McDonald's was ending its run with Beyond Meat up north, dashing hopes, at least temporarily, of a much larger rollout of the burgers, Starbucks recently announced it was adding Impossible Foods to its menu.
It still remains to be seen whether the momentum both manufacturers enjoyed during the pandemic will continue long after the crisis passes. They've benefited from the boost provided by the third-party delivery apps, which leaned hard into the restaurant closures.
Edison Trends separately found that fast-food breakfast items ordered via Uber Eats, DoorDash, and the others almost doubled after the shelter-in-place orders were handed down.
Impossible Foods' Brown can be forgiven for his exuberant belief the $50 billion real meat industry is on the way out, considering all plant-based meat alternatives registered just $760 million in sales last year. But restaurant chains will feel encouraged to add faux burgers and other plant-based proteins to their menus after seeing how often consumers chose to have them delivered to their homes while on lockdown.