A gladiatorial battle between real meat and high-tech plant meat is coming to your neighborhood TGI Fridays

About to hit a moment for fake meat.
About to hit a moment for fake meat.
Image: AP Photo/Sarah Crowder
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One of America’s hippest plant-based meat companies is about to go head-to-head with real meat in one of the county’s classic restaurant chains.

Beyond Meat has already found immense success in the retail space. Shoppers can now find its products in Whole Foods, Kroger, Albertsons, Safeway, Wegmans, and others. In the new year, Beyond Meat will take a significant leap forward in customer reach. Starting in 2018, TGI Fridays expects to offer the Beyond Meat burger at its hundreds of US locations. It won’t be sold as a special menu item; the restaurants will let customers substitute any burger on the menu for a Beyond Meat patty. It’ll be the first major restaurant chain to serve Beyond Meat.

For years, people looking for convincing alternatives to meat have turned to black bean and mushroom burger options—many of which may taste good but lack the qualities and appearance of conventional meat. Now a new set of companies are offering customers higher-tech, plant-based options that look, feel, and taste more like the real thing. Two of the biggest players in this new industry are Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, and to date, they’ve taken different approaches to getting into the marketplace. Beyond Meat has largely focused on pushing into grocery stores. Impossible Foods has spent more energy partnering with celebrity chefs and getting into restaurants.

Getting on TGI Fridays’ menu is a significant development during a robust period for meat alternative food companies, many of which are backed by influential vegans aggressively working to get meat alternatives into the marketplace. Right now, plant-based companies are having their moment. But on the horizon are a host of even higher-tech foods. Companies like Memphis Meats, Hampton Creek, and Finless Foods are hard at work in their laboratories perfecting cell-cultured meats. Also called “clean meat,” these are meat products grown from animal cells in beer-vat-sized bioreactors. Hampton Creek has said it will release its first clean meat product sometime in 2018.

Nearly all these companies—whether working on plant-based or cell-cultured meats—share the same overarching goal: Get as many meat eaters as possible to try their products. None of the CEOs have expressed an interest in appealing to vegans and vegetarians. Instead, they offer full-throated arguments for trying to convert as many meat-eating Americans as possible. Getting into a chain such as TGI Fridays, with over 450 locations throughout both urban and rural parts of the US is a significant milestone.