Sustainable Burgers Are No Joke

by Apr 4, 2019

Shelton Stat of the Week

52% of Americans are more likely to purchase from a manufacturer that is focused on sustainability when buying a product that you eat or drink (Eco Pulse 2018).

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Sustainability Win of the Week

At first, we thought it was an April Fools’ prank – two articles from Vox and the New York Times came out this Monday, April 1, with enticing headlines: “Burger King’s new Whopper is 0% beef. That’s a big deal” and “Behold the Beefless ‘Impossible Whopper.’” What may sound like a joke, however, is actually the start of a very real shift in sustainable foods.

Burger King released a commercial surrounding the launch of its new beefless burger, affectionately dubbed the “Impossible Whopper.” The commercial is, in essence, a surprise taste test performed on unsuspecting customers – and their reactions seemed perfectly in line with an April Fools’ prank: “you got to be kidding me” and “wait, is this for real?”

Indeed, it is – but only in select St. Louis stores for now.

Burger King is partnering with startup Impossible Foods – a company seeking to transform the meat (namely, beef) industry by making burgers that are meat-free and perfectly indistinguishable from “real” beef. For Burger King of all companies to consider such a move (without it being an actual prank) is astounding – not to mention Carl’s Jr. and White Castle, which offer similar meatless options already, and Taco Bell, which is testing out vegan and vegetarian options.

From a sustainability perspective, it makes sense. According to a 2016 study led by Oxford Martin School (a research and policy division of the University of Oxford, England), “a widespread switch to vegetarianism would cut emissions by nearly two-thirds” – and even just “adhering to health guidelines on meat consumption” (eating less meat overall) would result in a one-third cut in emissions by 2050. Emissions related to agriculture and food production are massive, with beef taking the lead for highest GHGs (more on that here, in this Chatham House report).

And other brands are joining in. Take Tyson Foods, for example, whose “CEO is pouring money into animal-free alternatives” according to this Bloomberg Businessweek report. Tyson produces 1 of every 5 pounds of meat consumed in the U.S. – but “to call it a sustainable or do-gooder company would be absurd,” the article states. Tyson is simply diversifying and using sustainability as a platform to do so. The reason for it? “We don’t want to be Kodak,” the CEO states. Tyson has goals of slashing greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent by 2030 – and meatless options may help (Tyson is teaming up with a number of animal-free “meat labs” already).

Of course, lab-grown meat is not perfect. Some environmental groups question its safety and the proprietary, secretive process by which it is made. Others (including this Vox article) ask whether lab-grown meat might actually be worse for the environment when one considers the carbon emissions of mass-manufacturing. The jury is still out.

No matter your own stance on lab-grown meat, this much is clear: it is a perfect example of how to use sustainability as a platform for product innovation – and how to use product innovation to drive sustainability goals in turn. At Shelton Group, we believe this is critical. If you’re an “old brand” worried about being disrupted by startups unencumbered by profitability, sustainability gives you an excellent pathway to relevancy. If you can disrupt – or even just augment – your existing product portfolio to address the market’s concerns/discomfort about the planet and the future, you’ll be on the consumer “good list” for years to come.

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News of the Week

Taco Bell begins testing vegetarian menu as more chains jump on plant-based food bandwagon – Forbes

Again, not a prank, but it sure sounds like one: Taco Bell vegan and vegetarian food. Taco Bell will be trying out a new vegetarian menu in the Dallas market starting this week. According to a recent Nielsen study, 39% of American consumers are trying to add more plant-based foods to their diet – and a number of fast food franchises and restaurants are jumping on this bandwagon with more vegetarian and vegan options.

Meat and agriculture are worse for the climate than power generation, Steven Chu says – Forbes

Extending upon this week’s theme, here’s another article from Forbes on meat and agriculture’s impact on climate change. Steven Chu is the Nobel Prize-winning physicist (and former U.S. Secretary of Energy) who once surveyed a number of industries to determine the largest carbon polluters. Chu proposes biotechnology and lab-grown meat (discussed in this week’s post) as potential solutions to the climate problem.

7 predictions for mobility’s next 7 years  – GreenBiz

After Lyft’s IPO last week, the future of mobility is on everyone’s mind. This article from GreenBiz discusses what’s next – with predictions on electrification, niche mobility options and more brands entering the ride-hailing market.

A Period of Change

Once upon a time, feminine hygiene was a topic simply not mentioned in polite society – and options were limited to an aisle of single-use products. Now, times are changing, and the options have grown. What once seemed like a segment of the consumer packaged goods industry impervious to change is now undergoing profound transformation. New, reusable choices are flooding the market – choices that are better for the environment and, in most cases, work better too. Fifty-nine percent of women have used or considered using them – what will that do to your business?

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Mark Smith