This man reinvented veggie burgers. If only we could find them in the store

Lukas Volger wondered why veggie burgers had to be flat and frozen. Now he knows

Lukas Volger’s “Made By Lukas” veggie burgers aren’t like anyone else’s. Instead of frozen, pre-shaped patties, Volger sells a refrigerated mash of veggies, grains, seeds, and spices: You scoop the mix like raw ground beef from a pint-sized plastic tub and shape each burger by hand. The end result doesn’t try to look or taste like meat. Volger’s three product lines—kale, beet, and carrot-parsnip—unabashedly embrace the color and flavors of fresh vegetables.

The novel approach is making progress: After only two years, Made By Lukas is carried in 50 to 60 stores, including Whole Foods locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn. And it has attracted media attention—including coverage in the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere when the product took top honors at this year’s Food + Enterprise Pitch Competition. Even so, Volger says he’s started to appreciate why his competitors do things the old-fashioned way. For all its appeal, he’s learned that innovation has its downsides.

A Made By Lukas burger shows off its beet-red hueMade by Lukas

A Made By Lukas burger shows off its beet-red hue

New ideas, new problems

Made By Lukas plays into several key trends: It resides in the refrigerator case, where sales are growing; it requires hands-on cooking, which customers are increasingly interested in; and by moving away from the meat-replacement concept, it appeals to carnivore and flexitarians as well as vegetarians. And yet Made By Lukas’s biggest asset—that it’s sold fresh—is also its biggest liability. Fresh also means perishable; while a conventional veggie burger can stay in the freezer case for months, Made By Lukas mixes have a three-week shelf life—not much time for an unfamiliar product.

“When I was first launching, the second the product arrived, I’d have to get in there with a demo to make them sell it before it expired,” Volger says. “I wish I’d understood that a bit better before I launched.”

Made By Lukas burgersMade By Lukas

Made By Lukas’s biggest asset—that it’s sold fresh—is also its biggest liability.

The product also suffers from a confused retail identity. Shoppers who look for veggie burgers in the freezer aisle—and who doesn’t?—might never stumble on Made By Lukas in the cool case by the tofu. “We certainly have to teach customers to look for veggie burgers in a new section of the grocery store,” Volger says.

Then there’s the learning curve. While adventurous customers are drawn to the product’s unfamiliarity, Volger says just as many aren’t sure what to make of it. Between the people who can’t find Made By Lukas, and the people who don’t know how to prepare it, Volger and his team members spend a lot of time in stores.

“It really comes down to doing the demos, interacting with people, and showing them how to use it,” Volger says. The second somebody sees us scooping it out of a container, treating it exactly as you would ground meat, they immediately understand the idea.

“I should be doing demos 24/7.”