Burger Bump Winnipegger's ground-beef and plant-protein hybrid gives health-conscious and flexitarian consumers a meaty hybrid alternative
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/08/2020 (882 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
James Battershill isn’t insulted when somebody tells him they can’t taste the difference between a burger made with Bump, the beef hybrid his parent company, Juno Food Labs, introduced to Winnipeg store shelves in March, versus one readied with good, ol’ ground round.
“No, that doesn’t bug me at all, because at the end of the day that’s the entire point,” he says nursing a cup of coffee in True North Square’s Hargrave St. Market. “Whenever I hear someone say their meatloaf or lasagna (prepared with Bump) tastes the same as it always did, I definitely take that as a compliment.”
Dressed in grey pants, white sneakers and a black T-shirt emblazoned with Bump’s official logo, Battershill, 35, says Bump, containing 70 per cent Western Canadian beef mixed with 30 per cent plant-based protein, is aimed primarily at flexitarians, people who are largely vegetarian but still enjoy chowing down on a steak every now and again, or wouldn’t dream of saying no to their grandmother’s turkey dinner.
“For health and environmental reasons, lots of people are taking steps towards reducing the amount of meat in their diet,” he says. “At the same time, many of them have a slew of time-tested recipes they know and love. So instead of having to adapt those recipes or ditch them altogether, they can use our product, while at the same time eating 30 per cent less meat.”
Battershill was “definitely not” a foodie while growing up in East Kildonan. Sure, he held part-time jobs at Wendy’s and Pizza Hut during his high school and university days but that was about it when it came to his association with pots and pans.
That started to change a bit after he graduated from U of M’s Global Political Economy program, which focuses on social, environmental and economic issues. Catching on as a policy analyst with Keystone Agricultural Producers, an organization that serves as a liaison between Manitoba farmers and the provincial and federal governments, he attended several conferences, during which he’d listen to speaker after speaker address shifts in consumer demand, including a move toward more plant-based protein.
By the time he became KAP’s executive director in 2013, he and his wife Catherine had cut back on their meat consumption substantially, recognizing the inherent global challenges associated with the livestock industry. He noticed an influx of plant-based protein products while out shopping for groceries, but because nothing he observed was aimed at flexitarians who wanted to reduce meat intake weren’t necessarily interested in becoming a full-fledged vegetarians or vegans, he went to work coming up with a solution. In June 2018 he hosted a backyard barbecue for friends and family. Among the items on the menu that evening were hamburgers prepared with ground beef meshed with an off-the-shelf plant-based protein. By the end of the night everybody was smacking their lips, telling him, “James, you might just have something here.”
“It wasn’t like I tried to trick anybody by saying ‘try this burger,’ only to let them know later what was actually in it,” he says. “There was no gotcha. Rather it was about collecting anecdotal evidence and verbal feedback, which turned out to be 100 per cent positive.” Check that: 99 per cent positive. One of the patties he served, comprised of 90 per cent plant-based protein and 10 per cent duck fat was, in his own words, atrocious.
In November 2018 Battershill began working with Red River College’s Prairie Research Kitchen, a state-of-the-art facility that assists people attempting to introduce new consumer products to the marketplace. He and a host of Red River culinary arts students experimented with so-called tipping points, eventually settling on a 70-30 beef-to-plant protein ratio, as well as which plant-based protein worked best. The decision to go with a pea-based offering was twofold: first, its ability to maintain taste and texture during the cooking stage and secondly, the vast number of people who are allergic to soy. (According to healthline.com, soy is the seventh most common food allergy, behind cow’s milk, eggs and nuts.)
Once that was established, he informed his bosses he would leaving his position at the end of February 2019 — a “very scary” decision, given he and Catherine were expecting their first child — to devote his full attention to Bump, a tag he and a marketing team settled on after weeks of back-and-forth. Know that positive feeling you get when you’re at the airport and find out you’ve been bumped to first class, he asks? That was the connotation they were after, though he admits with a smile that his wife’s emerging baby bump may have played a part in things, too.
You had me at kebab.
That was the reaction of Ryan Labonte, operations manager at Vita Health Fresh Market, when Battershill showed up for a meeting in February armed with a tray of kofta kebobs, a spice-laden Mediterranean dish made with Bump based on a recipe developed by Red River grad Anna Borys.
“It’s true we couldn’t tell the difference (between Bump and ground beef) and that was the case again when he came back a week later with a bunch of little meatballs,” Labonte says.
“Because we love to be part of any type of local success story — after all, Vita Health has been a local, family-owned business since 1936 — we were more than happy to team up with James by introducing Bump to all six of our stores.”
Labonte, who has personally used Bump in a variety of meals, including tacos and spaghetti sauce, says the timing could have been better. On March 13, just as the effects of COVID were being felt in Manitoba, Vita Health became the first retailer to stock the product. Thanks to Battershill’s dogged social media presence, however, Winnipeggers who may have been hesitant to go shopping for items other than toilet paper and hand sanitizer began popping by to pick up a pound or three.
“It’s always a two-way street with suppliers. We help them, they help us, and that’s definitely been the case with Bump,” he says. “A lot of our employees have tried it out and are happy to let shoppers know where to find it in the store.”
So launching a new product in the midst of a worldwide pandemic may not have been the way he drew things up last winter, but Battershill, who added a home delivery service in April, says he had mentally prepared himself for — excuse the pun — a few bumps in the road.
“Entrepreneurship is… how can I put this? If you’re going to stay down on the mat after taking a punch you probably shouldn’t be in the ring in the first place,” he says, noting Bump’s cost is comparable to the price of extra-lean ground beef.
“Starting a business usually means one challenge after another. Is COVID a bigger challenge than one would generally expect? Of course. Except after Catherine and I had George, we were in agreement that we wanted him to be somebody who would grow up to be brave and ambitious and who didn’t shy away from setbacks.”
Battershill, who intends to introduce Bump to other parts of the country in the coming months and hopes that once restaurants recover, they’ll consider using Bump in their kitchens, has already begun working on a few more varieties, ones featuring ground pork or poultry as the primary ingredient. As for the latter, he admits he won’t be as pleased as he has been in the past if people get back to him, saying their lettuce wraps or chili taste the same as before.
“We hope to have it on store shelves by spring 2021 — we’re still trying to decide between chicken and turkey — but I think we can make a pretty compelling claim that it won’t be a case of, ‘I couldn’t tell the difference’ but more, ‘I could tell the difference and Bump is way better,’” he says, mentioning that since mid-July, Bump has also been available at Winnipeg’s Red River Co-op grocery locations.
“That’s been the resounding response so far and I’m excited to roll that out, as soon as possible.”
For more information on Bump and to see a list of recipes (we strongly recommend the curried sweet potato shepherd’s pie) go to www.eatbump.com.
Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.
Mikaela MacKenzie loves meeting people, experiencing new things, and learning something every day. That's what drove her to pursue a career as a visual journalist — photographers get a hands-on, boots-on-the-ground look at the world.