Ahh, the burger. America’s best friend. Juicy, tender, mouthwatering. Since time immemorial, it’s practically been our country’s third trademark. But all that meat comes at a cost. The U.S. processed 32.2 million cattle and calves in 2017, according to the North American Meat Institute. People love meat. I love meat. But there’s also a recognition of the challenges of meat that’s been harvested from animals, particularly in factory farming. Enter Beyond Meat. They produce burgers that look, cook and taste just like meat. But they’re not what we think of as meat. They’re made entirely out of plants. And since 2016, they’ve made their way into thousands of supermarkets, drive-throughs, restaurants, hotels and sports stadiums. You give it a thumbs up? Uh-huh. You like it? Oh, and the company’s gotten major investments from Bill Gates, Leonardo DiCaprio, former McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson and Tyson Foods. So why did this new-age burger take on the battle with beef? And will it win? At Beyond Meat’s R&D lab, food scientists, chemists and engineers are perfecting the art of the animal-free burger. We like to think of meat not in terms of its origin, say from a chicken or a cow, but in terms of its molecular composition, so the proteins, the carbohydrates, the lipids, minerals and vitamins, all of which are available, except for cholesterol, in the plant kingdom. All of the facility’s R&D lab technicians are trained meat sommeliers. My job here is to figure out what makes meat taste and behave like meat at the molecular level and then go out into the plant kingdom and identify materials that behave the same way. Beyond Meat’s burger patties end up with roughly the same amount of protein as raw beef, but significantly more sodium due to the preservation and flavoring processes. It’s also worth noting that they still have 20 grams of fat, almost on par with beef. The main ingredients in Beyond Meat’s latest burger are peas, rice and mung beans for protein, beets for color and potato starch and coconut oil for juiciness. But what about the blood? Don’t worry, it’s beet juice. Ready? Yep. Beyond Meat is the brainchild of Ethan Brown, a once-carnivore turned vegan who grew up around his family’s farm in western Maryland. I spent a lot of time there, we had dairy cattle there. And so I was very close to animals growing up, loved them, and I was fascinated by them. Passionate about the environment, Brown pursued a career in clean energy. But I began to realize that livestock had a larger contribution to climate than many of the things that I was working on in terms of the emissions. 9 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture, and of that, one-third comes from methane emitted from cow digestion. So in 2009, Brown began working on a healthier, more humane burger. The question, “Why are you trying to build a piece of meat from plants? Why not just encourage people to eat plants directly?” A burger is something people love, and so we went after that core part of the American diet. Veggie burgers are nothing new. They’ve been around since 1982. Previous generations of veggie burgers generally were pre-formed burger patties that were already cooked that you essentially reheated, and they generally had a sort of dry or rubberier texture. And I think that was one of the sort of major steps in the evolution was realizing that people who eat plant-based meat or people who eat veggie burgers, they’re not all super health-conscious all the time, like, they like the feeling of biting into a juicy burger. They like the feeling of biting into a juicy meatball. So why can’t we give that to them? Today, Beyond Meat is booming. and it filed for a $100 million IPO in November of 2018. Sources tell CNBC that the plant-based food company has hired JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse to help lead the public offering. You can find the company’s products everywhere, from grocery stores like Whole Foods and Safeway to fast-food chains like Carl’s Jr. and A&W. The interesting thing about our sales is we cannot make enough product. So we are investing very rapidly and very significantly. It’s so meaty, it’s almost kind of freaky. And the customers aren’t just vegans and vegetarians, they’re also carnivores. Today the company also offers chicken strips, sausages, beef crumbles and has more items in development. We want to make bacon, we want to make steak, we want to make the most intricate and beautiful pieces of meat. U.S. retail sales of plant-based meats grew by 24 percent in 2018. Animal meats grew by just 2 percent. But Beyond Meat’s got some competition. Its biggest competitor? Impossible Foods. Backstage, they said they grilled like meat, they smell… It smells fantastic, Joe. Also based in California and also producing a variety of plant-based products. Their burgers are offered in more than 5,000 restaurants and chains including White Castle, Applebee’s and Momofuku. The company hasn’t yet made it into grocery stores, but plans to this year. Another big competitor is lab-grown or clean meat, which is animal meat grown in a lab by replicating animal cells in a petri dish. The lab-grown meat industry is currently getting backing from Bill Gates, Richard Branson and Cargill. But Brown’s biggest competitor? Really are in the meat industry itself. So good. I’m not vegan, but this is actually really good. I think we have reached one of two important tipping points as far as adoption of plant-based meat and that is the quality of the product. It’s not 100 percent there but it’s 99 percent of the way there, and I think the next hurdle is going to be price. Price has reduced drastically over the last few years, but I think it’s still on the higher end. As for Brown, he’s hopeful for the future. Someday I think plant-based meat will overtake animal protein as the main source of meat, but I can’t predict when. I do believe it will happen in my lifetime. Let’s hope so. Bring on the plant-based bacon.