Giant Meat Companies Are Actually the Perfect Home for Fake Meat

Here’s what Tyson’s takeover of Beyond Meat says about our changing appetites.

<p><a href="http://www.istockphoto.com/photo/healthy-fast-food-vegan-rye-burger-with-fresh-vegetables-gm478179878-67174889?st=_p_veggie%20burger" target="_blank">Anna_Shepulova</a>/iStock</p>

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Tyson Foods, the globe’s largest meat company, already knows how to create a “burger that bleeds.” After all, its vast slaughterhouses churn out nearly a quarter of all the beef produced in the United States. On Monday, the company announced it had bought a 5 percent stake in Beyond Meat, which has generated massive hype with its meatless burgers that bleed beet juice, not cows’ blood.

“Who better to make meat analogs than meat processors themselves?”

The Humane Society of the United States, which has often clashed with Tyson in recent years over animal welfare issues, also invested in Beyond Meat’s latest round of financing, reports Stephanie Strom in the New York Times. (Here‘s a video that HSUS posted in 2013 showing what it called, with good reason, “shocking animal cruelty” at a hog facility that supplies Tyson.)

So what to make of this meat giant joining one of its animal-welfare critics in investing in the company that’s rapidly becoming the most famous US purveyor of meatless analogs?

To me, it represents capitalism at work. Tyson ultimately exists not to make meat but rather to make money for its shareholders. It’s a massive global player, and global meat consumption is rising. But so is interest in plant-based meat and dairy substitutes. That industry reached $4.9 billion in US sales last year, and it’s growing at an annual rate of 3.5 percent, about double the overall food industry’s growth rate, according to the food industry tracker SPINS.

It doesn’t surprise me at all that Tyson, which has seen its profits soar lately, would want a taste of that market. The Times‘ Strom reports that the move marks the first time a big meat company has invested in a fake-meat firm. My question is: What’s taken so long? Four years ago, meat-industry trade journalist Bryan Salvage raised the question, “Who better to make meat analogs than meat processors themselves?” and added, “I’m waiting for meat analogs to be launched by such heavy industry hitters as Tyson, Smithfield, Cargill and Hormel.”

Back in June, in a piece on another animal-free meat startup called Impossible Foods, the investment website Seeking Alpha speculated that if the company succeeds at a large scale, the meatless-burger market “might be something to watch for meat giants such as Cargill, Tyson Foods, JBS, and National Beef Packaging Company.” It added that Big Food players General Mills and Kellogg are “already active in the frozen veggie burger category.” General Mills, in fact, is already an investor in Beyond Meat.

I have no doubt that Big Food, including its meat-processing arm, will figure out how to cash in on your burger habit—whether you prefer it be made of cow flesh or processed peas.

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