Maker of Faux Meat Named Startup To Watch by CNN
COLUMBIA - A Columbia business that makes faux meat is among the top 10 startup companies to keep and eye on over the next year, according to a new list by CNN.
The 10 companies were selected based on which ones are growing jobs, which ones are attracting money from investors and which ones seem most likely to impact innovative and digital culture.
The Columbia company's product looks, feels and tastes like chicken, but is made of vegetable protein.
Beyond Meat is attempting to create the most chicken-like non-animal food product on the market.
One year ago, Beyond Meat's Vice President of Operations, Bob Prusha, was the only employee in Columbia.
"We now have 33 full-time employees," he said. "Right now, we anticipate in the next three year period to add 100 jobs."
The company has another location in Los Angeles.
The food being created by Beyond Meat has been in development by the University of Missouri for over a decade. It was finalized in 2009.
Animal welfare is just one of the reasons Prusha thinks society should move away from eating animals. He said what might be the company's strongest selling point is the health benefit of a cleaner protein.
"I really believe in what vegetable proteins can bring to the world," he said. "Our product is more health-friendly, higher in protein, has no fats saturated fats and is GMO free."
For the same portion size, Prusha said, Beyond Meat's chicken has 20 percent more protein than real chicken.
He said the company gets financial support from Twitter co-founders Evan Williams and Biz Stone.
Beyond Meat's faux chicken strips have fooled many in blind taste tests, Prusha said.
The company uses plant protein from soy and peas and adds a combination of heating, cooling and pressure to realign it. That combination, Prusha said, creates a resemblance to meat.
"Our efforts are to replicate chicken exactly," Prusha said. "We don't just mean the flavor, it's the whole bite, tongue feel, experience that you might have. He said it can be cooked the same ways as chicken.
A Columbia barbecue joint started offering it on their catering menu several months ago. Smokin' Chick's BBQ owner Chick Orscheln said he had requests from vegetarian customers to offer some kind of meat substitutes.
"We can do whatever they want us to do with it," Orscheln said. "Before we offered this, vegetarians were limited to salads and macaroni and cheese."
Orscheln said he's working on adding the faux chicken to his full-time menu.
Fu-Hung Hsieh, an MU professor of biological engineering and food science, lead the project to create a low-cost soy substitute for chicken.
"I started this research over twenty years ago," said Hsieh, who is in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources and the College of Engineering.
His research has led to a process that does more than just add color and flavor to soy. Hsieh has developed a way to make the soy product simulate the fibrous texture of a chicken breast.
Prusha said the company is currently working on bringing its products to school cafeterias across the country.
The company is in the final stages of developing a crumbled, beef product.
"We're working on a taco flavor and an Italian flavor," Prusha said.
Consumers can find Beyond Meat's chicken products at select Whole Foods stores and in Columbia at Natural Grocers.