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As Major League Baseball teams get ready for opening day 2018 on March 29, the kitchen at one stadium in California is making preparations of its own.
The Oakland Alameda Coliseum, home of the Oakland A's, announced Wednesday it will be serving up a twist on a ballpark classic that may be surprising to fans: a cheeseburger that doesn't use a scrap of beef.
It's the Impossible Burger, a burger made from all plant-based ingredients like wheat, coconut oil, potatoes and soy leghemoglobin, combined to replicate the look and taste of beef — it even sears and is juicy like meat. The 300-employee Redwood City-based company behind the burger, Impossible Foods, has raised over $250 million in investment funding since its launch in 2011, with backing from investors like Bill Gates and Alphabet's GV (formerly Google Ventures).
"We're not getting rid of our regular cheeseburger, because this is not going to be for everybody," Jay Satenspiel, the senior vice president of food service and hospitality for Comcast's Spectra, which manages the stadium, tells CNBC Make It.
"This is a healthy alternative in the ballpark," he says. It's aimed for "that person that lives a healthy lifestyle, the person that is involved in the carbon footprint that cattle and all sorts of feed do to the environment."
Indeed, raising beef produces five times more climate-warming emissions than pork or chicken, according to 2014 research. Still, beef is a favorite at games: For a sold-out event with 40,000 people in attendance, the stadium can sell 12,000 burgers in a night, Satenspiel says.
So when he first heard of the Impossible Burger, he wasn't sure it would compare.
"I was very skeptical," he says. "They cooked it for me, and I watched it cook, and I smelled it, and I watched it caramelize, and then I tasted it.
"I was like, 'Oh my god, this is insane.' You could not tell the difference," he laughs. "Especially if you put it on a bun with some lettuce and tomato."
For the Oakland Alameda Coliseum, selling the burger is also a strategy to compete in a changing market for sports fans, Satenspiel says.
"It used to just really be about the game that was on the field," he explains. "Now, it's become an experience. It's become a destination for people to come to, and the culinary aspect of that experience is huge. It is probably the biggest factor in a fan's overall experience outside of the product that's on the field.
"We have to push the envelope and ensure we're not just some some cookie cutter [stadium] offering hamburgers, hotdogs, nachos and pretzels," Satenspiel continues.
Baseball stadiums have "led the way" in upgrading the menus served at professional sports stadiums according to a 2017 report by The New York Times, partly thanks to "22 major league stadiums that have been built since 1990." But traditions remain, and the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council estimated baseball fans would eat nearly 19 million hot dogs in 2017.
Fans seeking Impossible Foods' non-traditional burger can find it during the Oakland A's exhibition game Sunday, March 25 at a concession stand and the stadium's Shibe Park Tavern restaurant.
Selling a plant-based burger in a sports stadium is a big feat for Impossible Burgers, and signals a shift in consumer attitudes toward food, Jessica Appelgren, the vice president of communications at Impossible Foods tells CNBC Make It.
"Certainly there is a major cultural milestone here that [selling] the burger at the Oakland Coliseum represents," Appelgren says. "The cultural significance of our burger weaving its way into sports culture is wonderful."
And, she says Impossible Foods is increasing its production capabilities to meet growing demand for the burger in eateries like the stadium and the 1,000 restaurants across the U.S. that sell the dish.
The company's manufacturing facility in Oakland is on track to produce 1 million pounds a month of the burger, Applegren says. The facility is also looking to add 50 more employees in 2018 to its current staff of 50.
"That's all just to ramp up supply to meet this demand," Appelgren says.
Fake meat products like the Impossible Burger may be so convincing that the beef industry is starting to worry. In February, the U.S. Cattleman's Association filed a petition with the U.S. Department of Agriculture asking the agency for an official definition for terms like "beef" and "meat."
"The labels of 'beef or 'meat' should inform consumers that the product is derived naturally from animals as opposed to alternative proteins such as plants and insects," according to the USCA's petition.
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Disclosure: Comcast Spectra is a unit of Comcast, the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC.