Berkeley restaurants

Hungry Planet is taking over the world of plant-based meat

Early mass-market attempts at plant-based meats—those mealy, easy-to-burn Gardenburgers and oddly floppy, cartoonish Morningstar Bacon Strips come quickly to mind—keep meat eaters still scoffing. of their vegetarian friends.

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“These were made for vegetarians,” says Jody Boyman, co-founder of fast-growing plant-based meat empire Hungry Planet. “We don’t care about vegans and vegetarians,” the Santa Barbara resident said of this persistent small-eater subsector. “We decided we had to make meat directly from plants that would satisfy even the most carnivorous carnivores.”

With 18 items on sale in restaurants and 17 products on retail shelves across the country, Hungry Planet is targeting the much broader category of flexitarians, those people who aim to eat healthy and mindful but still love a good piece of meat. occasionally. With textured soy protein as a common base, the company’s lineup includes nine different meats – beef, chicken, pork, lamb, turkey, crab, chorizo, Italian sausage and breakfast sausage – which come in different forms. , minced meat with escalopes. to whole meals, like chicken piccata, Salisbury steak and sausage penne pasta.

“We have the most comprehensive line of plant-based camel meat on the market,” said Boyman, who was recently asked to develop plant-based camel meat during a visit to the Middle East. . “We’re constantly trying to demystify plant-based meats for people who clearly want to fit into the category but are just a little confused. For us, it was more than a piece of beef and burger, which our competition was doing.

Better than meat?

Chicken Mesa Burger Sandwich | Credit: Courtesy

I’ve learned that my diet is entirely flexitarian: dominated by vegetables, fruits, grains, and soy at most meals, but usually involving a daily pairing with some sort of fish or meat. I’ve always been open to trying alternative meats and am a fan of Impossible Meat, using it regularly for burgers, sauces, etc. But after trying just four Hungry Planet meats – I put grilled chicken strips on a Caesar salad; crispy, fried chicken patties on sweet buns with spicy barbecue sauce; Italian sausage crumble mixed with eggs; and pork gyoza dipped in soy-ginger sauce – I quickly understood why the company is well positioned to take on the world. We have already bought more fried chicken.

“When it’s easy and affordable, you’ll choose something plant-based if it tastes good, reminds you of meat, is healthy enough, and feels good in your stomach,” Boyman said, describing it to me exactly.

Her own plant-based diet began 45 years ago when she was a high school student in St. Louis, Missouri. “I didn’t know anyone else who was. I didn’t know there was a term for it,” she recalls. “I was one of those kids who rescued abandoned dogs on county roads or the bird that fell from its nest or earthworms on the sidewalk after a rainstorm. I was that kid who was very, very connected to the natural world.

It was a “hugely unpopular” position in the 1970s. “I just decided that animals didn’t need to be part of my diet,” she said. “Of course everyone thought I was going to die.”

Her sister, now an obstetrician-gynecologist in Vermont, also opted for herbs at a young age. Over the years, they pestered their brother, fellow Hungry Planet co-founder Todd Boyman, with data and science about the environmental and health benefits until he too understood the wisdom.

“We slaughter 80 billion animals a year and we struggle to feed seven billion people – there’s something radically wrong with that equation,” Boyman said. “We need to feed people plants and not put them through animals first.”

make the change

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Life went on, Jody working as a wildlife photographer, clinical psychologist and small business owner. She married Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Berkeley Breathed, and they moved to Santa Barbara in 1997 to raise a family.

As parents, Jody and Todd became more concerned about the trajectory of the world, especially since many of the plant-based lessons they had learned predicted much of today’s environmental turmoil. today. “They’re inheriting this incredibly damaged land that we’re passing on to them,” Next Generation’s Jody said. “It’s heartbreaking for me.”

So the siblings decided to work together on a project that could yield significant results. “Besides feeling powerless, we looked at the greatest leverage we have as individuals to affect change, and that comes down to food choice,” she said, noting that even one plant-based meals a day can save 200,000 gallons of water. annually. “However you dig into the data, you find it very, very compelling.”

Burger Mesa | Credit: Courtesy

They hired chefs and food scientists to work on recipes that were nutritious, loaded with protein and fiber, and made with only about ten ingredients — not the dozens found in so many other alternatives. As a long-distance trail runner, Boyman needed Hungry Planet products to be as healthy as possible.

“We have about half the calories and no saturated fat,” Boyman said, comparing competitors to Hungry Planet, which also tends to be lower in sodium and higher in fiber. “We lack fiber in our culture. It has nothing to do with protein. But our food is full of both, so take your pick. It’s also proud of the environmental benefits, which a third-party company claims include a 90% saving on CO emissions.2 and water and a 70 percent reduction in land use.

Then they sat on the idea for a while, waiting for the right moment to get started. It happened in 2017, and they pushed hard on the accelerator. Within a few years, Hungry Planet was launched as a restaurant-focused company, teamed up with the largest distributor in North America.

“We were sitting around and giving each other high fives,” Boyman said. “Literally three weeks later, COVID hit.”

They had to launch their two-year plan for retail products in the fastest lane ever. “People are still hungry,” Jody recalls thinking. “They’re just hungry at home.” Pretty soon they had almost 20 retail products to sell, and they caught on quickly.

fast business

Now, Hungry Planet products are sold in grocery stores from Hawaii to the East Coast, appearing on the frozen shelves of Sprouts, Lazy Acres, Albertsons and many other chains, with Costco on the near horizon.

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There are over 100 recipes on the Hungry Planet website, generally providing 1:1 replacement formulas for using these meats in everyday dishes. Restaurants are also back as big customers, including the Shoreline Beach Café, Chase Restaurant, Mesa Burger, Natural Café and many more in Santa Barbara alone.

The first round of funding raised approximately $30 million and another is in the planning stages. Although they have upwards of 40 employees, they will need many more facilities – and more strategically located across the world – to achieve their goals.

“Our name is Hungry Planet. It’s not Hungry Santa Barbara. It’s not Hungry USA,” Boyman said. “Our vision from the very beginning was to be globally ubiquitous over time.”

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