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).

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.

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.

It's a Period of Change

“Disposable” and “single-use” are becoming bad words. What customers really want is reusability, which is pulling ahead as the next big market trend. We’ve homed in on one particular industry and product type where we expect the biggest upset: consumer packaged goods and feminine hygiene products. Women are embracing reusable products and it’s shaking up the industry. And chances are, it’ll spread to YOUR industries and products.

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About the Author

Mark Smith

Suzanne Shelton

President and CEO

Suzanne is the voice and the vision of Shelton Group. Drawing on her extensive experience in energy and the environment – and 25+ years in the marketing and advertising industry – Suzanne provides high-level strategic insights for our clients and guidance for our research and creative departments. She regularly speaks at conferences around the country, including Sustainable Brands, Fortune Brainstorm E and the International Builders’ Show, and serves as a guest columnist for publications like Fast Company, Green Builder and

Susannah Enkema

VP Research & Insights

Susannah directs our research team and plays a key role in extracting the nuggets of information that pave the way for recommended marketing strategies and creative approaches. Susannah has nearly two decades of market research and strategy experience, including her role as president of SE Consulting, where she led the services for the likes of DIY Network and the makers of GORE-TEX®.

Matt Brass

VP Creative

Matt steers the creative department in concepting, designing and producing campaigns. He ensures sound strategy and deep insights inform everything his team develops, and works closely with the accounts department to ensure copy and designs will meet our clients’ goals. As a designer and filmmaker himself, he’s also a principal contributor to all of Shelton’s in-house photography and videography work.

Courtnay Hamachek

VP Operations

Courtnay oversees our day-to-day operations to keep us running smoothly and support our growth. She establishes project management systems and processes to help our teams anticipate bottlenecks, prevent process issues, and keep projects on time and on target. Courtnay has built extensive experience over 25 years in all aspects of marketing, from account services and project management to design and production.

Aaron Crecy

Digital Marketing Director

Aaron is responsible for planning, executing and measuring digital marketing strategies for Shelton Group and our clients, with an emphasis on inbound, content, SEO, social media, email and paid initiatives. He constantly researches and explores new tactics and strategies to improve digital campaign performance and results.

Aaron brings to the table more than 20 years of marketing leadership experience with premium consumer-facing brands. He came to Shelton Group by way of Malibu Boats, where, as Director of Global Marketing, he oversaw strategic marketing planning and execution for multiple product lines, with specific emphasis on social media and digital. Prior to that, he served as CMO for a leading daily fantasy sports operator, guiding it from startup to the industry’s third-ranked site.

Scot Case

Senior Consultant

A sustainability strategy consultant since 1993, Scot has served as non-profit leader, as a partner in an environmental marketing firm that he grew and sold, and as an executive in a multi-billion-dollar, international company. He has published dozens of articles and case studies, was co-author of the original “Sins of Greenwashing” study, testified before Congress, and been quoted on NPR, Good Morning America, CNN, The New York Times, Business Week, and the Wall Street Journal. Scot was also highlighted in an Emmy award-winning documentary on sustainable purchasing.

Casey Ward

VP Account Services

Casey manages our relationships, growth and development with a specific group of clients that includes Environmental Defense Fund, Cotton LEADS and CertainTeed Insulation. She provides leadership and support for the account team members who manage the day-to-day processes for these clients. She contributes to strategic direction for each client and guides our creative efforts to ensure everything we do builds toward meeting – or exceeding – the client’s goals. Her ability to simultaneously see the big picture and pay close attention to the details helps her champion her clients’ needs and identify new growth opportunities for them.