Inside the burger company that Leonardo DiCaprio and Bill Gates are pouring money into

Emily Rella,

For meat-eaters and non-vegans alike, the thought of a plant-based burger that’s meant to look, taste and completely emulate a real meat burger is completely eye-roll-inducing, let alone believable.

Most would agree that there’s nothing wrong with veggie burgers, but that there’s a clear distinction between what constitutes a vegetarian alternative and a real, filling burger.

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But thanks to Ethan Brown, CEO of Beyond Meat, that concept has been completely flipped on its head.

Beyond Meat a company dedicated to building meat directly from plants, has made history through its successful production of the Beyond Burger, a 100 percent vegan, plant-based burger that’s loaded with over 20 grams of protein.

But don’t go looking aimlessly through grocery-store freezers for a box of these burgers, because this is one vegan go-to that you can actually find in the the meat section of your grocery store.

Rattled? CEO Ethan Brown broke it down to AOL:

"It’s been a goal for the company since the beginning to be placed in the meat case. The idea is that we can get hung up on the origin of meat … or we can focus more on the composition of meat, the sensory experience of meat. And if you make that slight shift in your thinking toward thinking about meat as a collection of amino acids, lipids, water, and you understand the architecture …  who’s to say that’s not meat? If you’re willing to think about meat in terms of what its nutritional value is, what its sensory experience is, and not its origin … then you’re more open to the idea of ‘Well, this could be in the meat case.’"

The first of its kind, the Beyond Burger is actually able to imitate (while simultaneously staying true to its unique taste and form) a real animal-based burger.

Ethan accredits his upbringing to his interests in agriculture and sustainability:

“I think a lot of my interest comes from my childhood … [My father studied] the intersection of economics and philosophy, particularly as it relates to ecology —  I was very focused on that as a kid because its sort of what we focused on at dinner. [My father] was someone who had a real love and appreciation for the countryside, and wanted us to spend as much time as we could there … so he bought a farm when I was very young and would take us out there.. we ended up starting a cattle business there, or a dairy farm.

I had a real passion for animals, and never understood the difference between the animals we kept in our barn and the ones in our house … that had always mad eye very uncomfortable. So, I saw this opportunity to go off in my own direction, to do something that spoke to my heart and spoke to biggest challenge that i faced with respect to climate."

This sparked an interest in Ethan from a young age, leading him to study sustainability in a formal setting (“I went away to college and focused on alternative energy, particularly fuel cells”) and leading to an epiphany of sorts once he enrolled in business school at Columbia:

“I kept thinking about the role that livestock had in climate, and that it was being kind of dramatically under-appreciated. In fact, I felt that the focus of government funds and private-sector funds (including private capital) was being misdirected in the sense that there was too much emphasis being placed on the energy sector relative to the agricultural sector. If we could focus on the agricultural sector then we could make much greater headway in terms of climate."

Ethan would grow frustrated after attending seminars and conferences that focused heavily on environmental concerns and sustainability, only to be brought out to a steak dinner shortly thereafter — it all seemed counterintuitive to him:

“If you really looked at the number associated with climate, the main driver in climate is protein inside of the plate, because of the emissions associated with all parts of the process.”

Beyond Meat was founded in 2009, and the company has seen nothing short of explosive growth since — major investors are Bill Gates, Don Thompson, Tyson and most recently, Leonardo DiCaprio, a very vocal activist on climate change and sustainability.

Beyond Meat sells products in over 11,000 stores throughout the U.S., with plans to expand its reach and product catalog annually, as Ethan told one of his key-employees, “This is a lifetime employment company.”

Perhaps the real success of the Beyond Burger is that while there are, and always will be, contrasts between a beef-based burger and a plant-based alternative (“There are definitely differences between our products and animal protein, but it’s getting closer … getting that place in the meat case has been transformational”) the main objective for Ethan and the team has always been “about enabling people to continue the traditions that they love, not telling them not to do it.”

Translation? If your Tuesday nights center around cooking up big, juicy burgers with your family, you don’t have to give that tradition up in any shape or form — you can just make a quick swap that’s so subtle, the only noticeable difference will be the one you make in the environment. 

To learn more about Beyond Meat and the company’s products (including the Beyond Burger), visit here.

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