A month after becoming the first vegan steak to land on a US steakhouse chain menu, Israeli startup Chunk Foods’ whole-cut plant-based alternative is making its fast-casual debut via Leonardo DiCaprio- and Lewis Hamilton-backed chain Neat Burger. The new Chunk Steak Sandwich is priced at a premium of $19.99 and packs over 25g of protein.
Backed by Robert Downey Jr’s FootPrint Coalition, Chunk Foods says the new menu option is a “culinary experience that rivals traditional steak sandwiches”. It uses the biomass-fermented Chunk Filet, which is paired with ingredients and seasonings to replicate a classic steak sandwich. Complemented with vegan blue cheese, cilantro chipotle sauce and caramelised onions on an artisan roll, the sandwich is available at Neat Burger’s Nolito store in Manhattan.
Launched in 2020, Chunk Foods’ link-up with Neat Burger is a marker of the former’s increased foodservice presence, with its vegan steak itself having already appeared on the menus of several New York City restaurants, including Coletta, Anixi and The Butcher’s Daughter. And last month, it also became a menu item at Charley’s Steak House in Orlando.
Its whole-cut steak uses solid-state fermentation, which is cheaper than high-moisture extrusion or submerged fermentation. It won the ‘Plant Based Meat Product of the Year’ at the fourth annual AgTech Breakthrough Awards last month. The company, which has secured $17M in total funding, says it’s also working on pork, lamb and poultry alternatives. Chunk Foods, which raised $15m in seed funding last year, will also be opening a manufacturing facility in Israel – touted to be one of the largest of its kind.
“Partnering up with Chunk Foods not only hits the culinary innovation we strive for, but it’s also kind to the planet and pleasing to the palate,” said Neat Burger US COO Kenny Silvester.
This collaboration represents an expansion of plant-based whole-cut meat‘s availability in the North American market – Juicy Marbles‘ filet mignon, New School Foods‘ salmon filet and Tender Food‘s steaks, pulled pork and chicken breasts are prime examples. This format has often been described as the “holy grail” of plant-based meat.
Despite the retail decline, alt-meat thrives in US foodservice
Alt-meat brands have had a tough year in the US retail market, with retail sales of plant-based meat falling by 12.6% to $106.8M in the five weeks to July 2, 2023, and units down by 19.8% year-on-year. And for the year to July 2, 2023, sales declined by 7.3% year-on-year, while units saw a 15.6% drop. Many brands have faced bankruptcy or have been forced to cease operations, just as the number of American vegans hit a 10-year low this year.
Despite the grim reading, foodservice sales of alt-meat reached an all-time high of $730M in the US, with plant-based meat eaters making over 30 more foodservice visits per year than the average consumer, according to a report by industry body the Good Food Institute (GFI). Nearly 10% of Americans purchased vegan alternatives to meat in foodservice in 2022 – 15% of whom repeated their purchases over four times.
It aligns with a 2022 Mintel report showing that five in 10 omnivores and eight in 10 flexitarians say more US restaurants should serve plant-based meat alternatives. Meanwhile, further research has revealed that 76% of the country’s foodservice operators are aiming to maintain or increase their plant-based meat options – nearly half (48.4%) of all restaurants currently offer plant-based menu items.
Neat Burger’s expansion drive
“The long-term performance of plant-based proteins in foodservice indicates that the plant-based category is continuing to mature,” read the GFI report.
Neat Burger is a prime example of this. The vegan fast-food chain closed an $18M Series B funding round in May, amid accelerated expansion in key international markets. The Nolita store was its first in the US, opening earlier this year, and exceeded first-month sales expectations to outperform all other locations internationally.
“This is a pivotal moment for our business, and it allows us to accelerate our growth plans,” Neat Burger CEO Tommaso Chaibra said at the time. “With the successful launch of our New York location and record first quarter under our belt, we have demonstrated the strength of our brand, and are now well-positioned to bring our award-winning plant-based food to the growing number of consumers in the US and worldwide who are embracing a healthier and more flexitarian lifestyle.”
The chain had announced plans to open another US site and three more in London by 2025. Last month, it unveiled two new sites in London’s Dalston and Wembley, with the former featuring a grab-and-go concept (a first for the brand). Neat Burger will also enter Italy and expand its presence in the Middle East, where it opened its first store in Dubai last October.
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