Have you been following my Beyond Meat saga? And by saga I mean two boring blog posts. Plus this one. Three.
It started off on Wednesday when Beyond Meat sent out a not-even-quite-cryptic email asking us all to guess which region they were rolling out in that day. As one of my Instagram followers said: I wasn’t in the mood to guess.
Then after a similarly mysterious Tweet they sent a second Tweet revealing that it’s Southern California. Now keep in mind, Beyond Meat had already been available for a few weeks in the Madeleine Bistro bistro box, and in big bags at Viva La Vegan, and in sandwiches at Phoney Baloney’s. But I guess the fact that it was going into Whole Foods was supposed to be a big deal. The place they expected to find their core audience or something. Like match.com for fake meat and fake meat lovers.
Except they completely blew it. The email, tweets and website all directed people to the prepared foods cases at Whole Foods and listed a whole bunch of Whole Foods locations where you could find it in Los Angeles. So, because I’m pathetic, I jumped right in the car and burned rubber. (Hyperbole.)
Beyond Meat mislabeled as Gardein at the Westwood Whole Foods
But when I got to the Whole Foods in Westwood there wasn’t any in the prepared foods case. Only in a nasty steamed-vegetable-concoction at the hot bar. With a card saying, “Gardein Chicken.” So I headed over to the Whole Foods in West L.A. Where there wasn’t any in the prepared foods case either. Or the hot bar. And only after encountering a knowledgeable and helpful “team member” who wondered why so many people kept coming in that day asking for Beyond Meat, and learning from me that it was their big rollout day, wondered why nobody bothered to tell Whole Foods that or to make sure it was actually on hand.
You see it turned out that both stores DID have Beyond Meat. Only not the day of the rollout. They had it for the previous two weeks. But again, NOT on the day of the rollout. Finally, the helpful team member had an inkling where I might be able to find it — he thought there might be some left over from the previous day at the taco bar. And he was right! There under the tag “Vegan Chicken in Tomatillo Sauce” was some Beyond Meat, and it was as good as the steam table concoction was bad.
I was sold. Or so I thought.
The Beyond Meat in Tomatillo Sauce was so good that I wanted to try it some other ways. So the next day, after getting some very positive tweets from Beyond Meat saying that my blog post had led them to look into their distribution problems, I went off to some of the other Whole Foods listed on the Beyond Meat website to see what I could find.
Beyond Meat Summer Chicken Salad. Photograph taken on October 18th.
At the Whole Foods on 5th and Wilshire in Santa Monica, for the first time I encountered Beyond Meat in the prepared foods case, which is where customers were supposed to be able to find it all along. It was only available in one preparation: a “Summer Chicken Salad.” Okay, I know, it was October 18th. But I have to tell you, this preparation would not have tasted any better on July 18th. It was nasty. It was in some purple-colored mayonnaise-like dressing that turned the whole salad purple. Who created this recipe, tasted it, and said “Yes, this tastes good!”? But I bought some anyway because, well, it was still Beyond Meat and I had driven there!
Then I went to the Whole Foods at Wilshire and 23rd in Santa Monica. (Yes, there are two Whole Foods eighteen blocks apart — one was a smaller store from when Whole Foods acquired Wild Oats.) And there, in the giant prepared foods case, at the giant 23rd and Wilshire store, they had NO Beyond Meat. Did they even know what it was? Yes, they did! And they said they had some on Monday, in fact. But not since then. Which means not on Wednesday, the day of the company’s alleged giant rollout.
Vegan Curry Chicken Salad Pre-Pack
However, a few minutes later, nosing through the refrigerated shelving where the pre-packed foods are displayed, I found one (and only one) pre-packed Vegan Chicken Curry Salad. Now mind you, the Whole Foods vegan chicken curry salad is one of my staples and has been since I first went vegan a little over two years ago. Back then it was made with Gardein. I loved it, ate it at least twice a week for lunch. It was really good. Then, about a year ago, they stopped making it with Gardein and switched to Eco-Cuisine. I was devastated! I contacted Whole Foods and was told that Eco-Cuisine absorbed the sauce better and they were sticking with it. *Sigh*
Well, that happens in life. The things you like go away or get changed. You have to move on. And learn to accept online bill pay and eat Eco-Cuisine. So I did. And while it wasn’t as good, I got used to it. Maybe, just maybe, it was almost as good. Or at least as my Gardein Memories faded it was.
But now, in my hand, reading the label, I saw that my beloved vegan chicken curry salad was… drumstick roll please… made with Beyond Meat! Exciting! I guess. So I bought it.
Mislabeled card at Beverly Hills Whole Foods
And then… yesterday… aka Friday… I was in Beverly Hills, and wouldn’t you know it, they also have a Whole Foods that was on the Beyond Meat website list. So I went. And what kind of Beyond Meat did they have in the prepared foods case? Nothing, according to the first team member I spoke to. And nothing, according to the woman he asked after I asked him to ask someone else. However, the person she asked after I asked her to ask someone else, who was the head of the prepared foods section, told me that in fact there was an item in the prepared foods case made with Beyond Meat, and it was… the vegan chicken curry salad. “But look,” I said, “The card for it says it’s made with Eco-Cuisine.” “Yeah I know,” he said, “But the card is wrong.” And so I bought some, even though I already had some in a pre-pack in my fridge. Because, well, like I said, I was excited about Beyond Meat, and I wanted to see if there was any difference between the fresh and the pre-pack.
And here’s the result of my scientific experiment, aka eating: the Whole Foods vegan curry chicken salad, when made with Beyond Meat, SUCKS. The pre-pack and the fresh sucked equally. They weren’t nearly as good as the Eco-Cuisine, which wasn’t as good as the Gardein. Now I’m a realist, and I don’t ever expect to see Eco-Cuisine at Whole Foods again. They have clearly thrown in their lot with Beyond Meat and whenever Whole Foods make a change like this there is no going back. And like I said, the Beyond Meat in the Tomatillo Sauce at the taco bar was fantastic. Really, really good. But somehow, the sauce from the vegan chicken curry salad, or some other food chemistry reaction from the ingredients, turned the Beyond Meat in the chicken curry salad into a hard rubberlike substance. Chewing it was like chewing taffy, only harder. It was like taking a rubber washer from your washing machine and trying to eat it. One piece was so hard and rubbery I literally could not chew it enough to swallow it. I had to take it out of my mouth and throw it into the trash. It refused to allow itself to be chewed.
THIS IS BAD.
How could someone at Whole Foods have tried this and thought it could be served to humans? I imagine they knew it could not, but were under orders to use Beyond Meat in this product from now on anyway. Period. There is nothing else I can imagine that would explain why Whole Foods would do this. If the BMB (Beyond Meat Boss) were to try a bite of this vegan curry chicken salad he would be horrified. Mortified. Because, like me and my tomatillo, he knows how good his product can be. And this was the opposite. The nadir. It was a showcase for how BAD his product can be. It was so bad you practically wondered if it was a competitor committing sabotage. It really was that gross.
So what’s next? Hopefully, since Beyond Meat seems to be aware and concerned about the fiasco they are enduring in their Whole Foods rollout, they will investigate, get the recipes fixed, and make sure their product is used in ways that make everyone realize how good it can be. Otherwise they will quickly begin to wonder why nobody is buying their product. And Whole Foods, if they have the kind of inventory system I imagine them to have, will wonder why sales of the once quick-moving vegan chicken curry salad have begun to dry up.
And it’s early. I know. And things can be fixed. And I hope they will be. But like I said, how any of this could have happened in the first place is Beyond Meat.