RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Meatless meats are going mainstream. You can find meatless burgers, brats and sausages at fast food restaurants, major league ballparks and soon, even hospital cafeterias. It's a sign of the growing popularity of so-called plant-based meat alternatives. And NPR's Amara Omeokwe reports that Wall Street is hungry for more.
AMARA OMEOKWE, BYLINE: North Carolina resident Stephanie Caudle was never a big meat eater. She had considered giving up meat altogether, but she had reservations.
STEPHANIE CAUDLE: I come from a, I guess, pretty traditional southern family.
OMEOKWE: Where meat is a mainstay. She didn't want to feel left out.
CAUDLE: I hated having to go to dinner and, like, the only thing I can get off the menu is a salad. And it's just like, oh, like, this is not fun. Like, I need to be able to enjoy some good comfort food just like everyone else is.
OMEOKWE: And then a few years ago, Caudle started coming across plant-based meats from companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat.
CAUDLE: I was just like, oh, my God. Like, let me see what else they have. And I just started trying them. And then I went to my local grocery store, and I start buying it.
OMEOKWE: She credits these new veggie burgers with helping her follow through on becoming a vegetarian. Caudle is 30 years old, and high blood pressure and breast cancer run in her family, so she's health conscious. That makes her exactly the kind of consumer these plant-based meat companies are looking for.
Millennials like Caudle are helping drive the industry broadly, says Michele Simon, executive director at the Plant Based Foods Association. This new wave of veggie burgers, sausages and hot dogs might appeal to people who, for example, care about greenhouse gases released during industrial meat production.
CAUDLE: For a lot of younger people, we know the next generation is much more concerned about climate change and the environment and, to some extent, animal welfare.
OMEOKWE: That's partly why investors are betting big on plant-based meat companies.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The stock market debut for Beyond Meat went beyond.
OMEOKWE: Beyond Meat's stock has climbed more than 200% since it started trading in May. Second quarter revenue was nearly four times higher than the same period last year, though the company has yet to make a profit. Impossible Foods is a private startup. It's raised more than $750 million. Investors in both Impossible and Beyond like that the companies are making foods intended to taste, feel and smell exactly like meat from animals.
It'll still be a tall order to get people to switch, though. Americans ate more than 26 billion pounds of beef last year. But Bryan Spillane, an analyst at Bank of America, believes plant-based meats will eventually eat away at the chicken, beef and pork industries.
BRYAN SPILLANE: To the extent that they continue to evolve that product and are able to get to producing a meat equivalent, it really opens up what is a $1.4 trillion meat market globally.
OMEOKWE: Big chain restaurants are buying that idea. At Dunkin stores in Manhattan, there's the Beyond Sausage breakfast sandwich, at TGI Friday's nationwide, the Beyond Meat burger. This month, Burger King rolled out a Whopper with the patties from Impossible Foods at its U.S. stores.
(SOUNDBITE OF COMMERCIAL)
UNIDENTIFIED VOICE ACTOR: One-hundred percent Whopper, and 0% beef. We know it's impossible to believe. The Impossible Whopper, only at...
OMEOKWE: It's no surprise then that even traditional meat companies are getting into the plant-based game. Tyson Foods, one of the world's biggest meat producers, recently announced it will soon start selling plant-based nuggets nationwide. And that could pose the next big challenge for Beyond and Impossible - staying ahead of other companies who want a taste of their success. Amara Omeokwe, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.