For the handful of companies working to develop plant-based alternatives to meat, finding a hearty stand-in for the humble hamburger is the holy grail.
One of those companies, Beyond Meat, says it has come up with that burger. The company will begin selling the Beyond Burger on Monday at a Whole Foods in Boulder, Colo. — alongside the case where beef, poultry, lamb and pork are sold.
“This is what I had in mind when I started the company,” said Ethan Brown, who founded Beyond Meat in 2009.
Companies making plant-based alternatives to a variety of animal proteins are popping up everywhere. Jars of Just Mayo, an eggless spread made by Hampton Creek, now sit near Hellmann’s, and nut-based milks now account for almost 10 percent of the $20 billion milk market.
Sales of products incorporating plant proteins grew 8.7 percent from 2014 to 2015, while overall sales of food products grew 3.7 percent, according to Spins, which collects data on retail sales for the natural and specialty products industries.
Tom Rich, vice president of purchasing and distribution in the Denver region of Whole Foods Market where the Beyond Burger will first be sold, says there is a growing interest in alternative protein sources.
The Beyond Burger, said Mr. Rich, a vegetarian, “tasted and felt and chewed like any other burger, and on some level, I just want to be able to eat the same way everyone else eats.”
Caleb Bryant, a food service analyst at Mintel, said most consumers continued to think of a burger as meat-based, though he said he saw growing interest in plant-based alternatives among younger consumers.
“This past year has been a big deal for vegetable burgers,” Mr. Bryant said. He noted that the Superiority Burger, a vegetarian burger sold at the New York City restaurant that shares the same name, was nominated as a semifinalist for a James Beard Award.
Indeed, chefs like Dan Barber have been experimenting with veggie burgers. And a plant-based burger from Impossible Foods, a competitor to Beyond Meat, will soon be on the menu at “select” restaurants in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles, according to the company’s marketing.
Beyond Meat wants its burgers to go home via the grocery basket. At Whole Foods, where Mr. Brown will be, on and off, for the next couple of weeks, a package of two four-ounce Beyond Burgers will sell for $5.99.
“I want as many people as possible to have access to our products,” Mr. Brown said. “My goals go way beyond food.”
Like many of the entrepreneurs developing new ways of extracting protein from plants, Mr. Brown said he was concerned about both nutrition and the environmental impact of large-scale animal farming and how the food industry will adequately feed the world’s growing population.
Beyond Meat previously sold the Beast Burger as frozen burger patties among vegetarian burgers, such as those from MorningStar Farms and Amy’s. The goal, however, was to develop a “fresh” burger that would sell in a refrigerated case alongside beef and other meat burgers.
The company had to solve a variety of issues. For one thing, it had to ensure that the middle of its burger would stay moist, pink and juicy as the exterior cooked to that distinct dark brown of a traditional hamburger. It had to “bleed” — thousands of beets were pulverized in the development process — and it had to emit the same smell as cooked beef.
“It’s hard to reduce flavor and aroma to an equation, particularly when you need a solution that is simple and flexible,” said Joseph Puglisi, a professor of structural biology at Stanford University whose research focuses on the shapes and forms of biological molecules.
The distribution of “fat” in the product was especially tricky, said Professor Puglisi, who serves as Beyond Meat’s lead scientific adviser and helped the company assemble its team of young chemists, biologists and engineers. “We were able to get fat distributed throughout a patty — but in meat, fat is distributed in sheets,” he said. “Plants don’t have ligaments.”
The goal was also to have no preservatives and all natural ingredients.
Mr. Brown said he spent months coaxing Whole Foods into selling the burgers in the meat section. At Whole Foods in Boulder, the burgers will be sold in the section where other meat alternatives are sold. Eventually, it will be sold in other Whole Foods stores in the region.
It also will be on a new vegan menu in the store’s cafe and available for takeout. And for two weeks, a team from Beyond Meat will be in the store, grilling Beyond Burgers and listening to customers’ reactions.
Next up, a T-bone steak? “That may be a long way off,” Mr. Brown said. “But nothing’s impossible.”
A version of this article appears in print on May 23, 2016, on page B2 of the New York edition with the headline: Among Meats, a Veggie Burger Toughs It Out.