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Can a healthier plant-based burger combat falling US sales? Beyond Meat hopes so

This image provided by Beyond Meat shows packaging for the latest iteration of the plant-based Beyond Burger. Beyond Meat, which has been struggling with falling U.S. demand, reformulated its burger to contain less fat and more protein. (Beyond Meat, Inc. via AP) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Beyond Meat is revamping its signature plant-based burger, hoping that healthier ingredients will help it boost flagging U.S. sales.

The El Segundo, California-based company said Wednesday its new Beyond Burger patties and Beyond Beef grounds cut saturated fat by 60% by switching from canola and coconut oils to avocado oil. The new beef products also have less sodium and more protein.

The new products go on sale in the U.S. this spring.

Beyond Meat has updated its products before; this is the fourth generation of the Beyond Burger. But Beyond Meat Founder and CEO Ethan Brown said this is the biggest leap forward the brand has made since the Beyond Burger went on sale in 2016.

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Brown said the company spent years developing the new recipe with input from nutritionists and doctors, trying to provide the benefits of plant-based eating in a burger that mimics the taste and texture of animal meat.

“Health is one of the top drivers to the plant-based meat category, and we feel a deep responsibility to deliver on that expectation for the consumer,” Brown told The Associated Press.

Beyond Meat is also under pressure to reverse declining U.S. sales. In the first nine months of 2023, the company’s U.S. revenue dropped 34% on weak consumer demand. The company said in November it was cutting 19% of its workforce and considering cutting some products, like jerky, and reducing its operations in China.

Beyond Meat's sales have been rising in Europe, where it sells burgers and nuggets at McDonald's. In the first nine months of last year, its international revenue rose 17%. But that hasn't been enough to offset the U.S. losses. McDonald's has tested Beyond Meat burgers in the U.S. but hasn't made them a permanent menu item.

Inflation is one reason U.S. buyers turned to cheaper sources of protein in recent years. But U.S. consumers’ doubts about the health of plant-based meat – fed partly by advertising from the meat industry – has also been a consistent problem. The outgoing Beyond Burger contains 25% of the recommended daily intake of saturated fat, for example, and 17% of the recommended intake of sodium.

The new Beyond Burger significantly improves that health profile. It has 2 grams of saturated fat, or 10% of the recommended daily intake, and 14% of the recommended intake of sodium. A single patty has 230 calories, which is the same as the outgoing burger.

For comparison, a Kroger-brand 80/20 beef patty has less sodium but 9 grams of saturated fat — or 45% of the recommended intake — and 290 calories. The new Beyond Burger also has less saturated fat and sodium and than its chief plant-based rival, Impossible Foods' Impossible Burger.

Beyond Meat – which has always used pea protein to make its burgers -- added lentils, rice and faba beans to the new burger to improve chewiness and boost protein. The burgers now have 21 grams of protein, compared to 19 grams of protein in both the 80/20 beef patty and the Impossible Burger.

Beyond Meat's shares rose nearly 4% in morning trading Wednesday. The company reports its full-year 2023 earnings on Feb. 27.