Agriculture Program Does Protein Substitute Study
Students in the Agriculture and Horticulture programs have spent time this semester discussing the pros and cons of plant-based protein substitutes. Companies such as Beyond Meats and Impossible Foods have created substitutes for a traditional beef burger that have come as close to any replicating the flavor and essence of a hamburger. Students in DCB’s world food crops class listened to a podcast on the Future of Meat and discussed the implications of increased consumption of plant-based meats on crop and livestock farmers. While DCB’s horticulture science class read articles for and against the Beyond Meats and discussed their opinions and views from both sides of the argument.
DCB’s dining services put on a blind taste test of Impossible burger and tradition beef. Any students, staff, and faculty eating at the dining center for lunch on November 1st could choose to take the “Fake-Me-Friday” challenge. At lunch service, participants received two sliders, one beef burger and one impossible burger. Our agriculture and horticulture students administered a short survey asking the participants to rate each slider on taste, texture, and appearance. In addition, they were asked to identify which slider was beef.
About 41.3% correctly selected the beef burger, while 52% incorrectly identified the plant-based substitute as beef. The remaining 6.7% admitted to not being able to tell the difference. Taste was primary reason people used to make their judgement. Interestingly, those that believed the impossible burger was beef, were more likely to base their choice on more than one deciding factor (e.g. they said taste and appearance caused their decision). Time will tell if these products are a fad or a long-term trend in the industry, but many survey participants noted that they would not pay more for an impossible burger because they did not feel the quality differences were enough to garner a higher price.
Many questions about consumers’ willingness-to-pay for plant-based meat products remain. Traditionally, consumers have been skeptical of lab created/altered products, are they willing to purchase these types of substitute products? In addition, new trends toward eating less processed foods are in conflict with plant-based versions of meat products. These are important questions for the outlook of animal agriculture in ND, because understanding consumer views of these products will guide the beef industry’s response to these competing products. Future studies might include a comparison of impossible burger to a higher quality ground beef, or adding additional distractors like bison burgers, elk burgers, or other wild game.