Beyond Meat hits the meat aisle — and then some

Executive Chair Seth Goldman on the opportunity ahead

Seth Goldman, executive chair of Beyond Meat, doesn’t see Impossible Foods — or any others in the rapidly expanding plant-based meat substitute category — as his main competitor.

No, that would be the meat industry.

52 percent of Americans are trying to include more plant-based foods in their diet.

Recent research has shown that 52 percent of Americans are trying to include more plant-based foods in their diet. The incentives are many: Health reasons. Environmental concerns. Animal welfare.

As for the other 48 percent? Goldman is keenly interested in giving them something to “nibble on.”

Joined by “Supermarket Guru” Phil Lempert, Goldman began the Monday presentation at NRF 2020 Vision: Retail’s Big Show with a couple of lively and light-hearted videos. One placed rapper Snoop Dogg behind the counter of Dunkin’, introducing the “Beyond D-O-Double G” sandwich, complete with a Beyond Breakfast Sausage patty, egg and cheese on a sliced glazed doughnut. Also on tap: Martha Stewart introducing Beyond Meatball subs at Subway Canada with a tongue-in-cheek primer on how to “grow” them.

The goal, he said, is not to have more people become vegan. It’s just to have more people eat plant-based meals — even if they don’t do it all the time.

“We want people to just give it a try,” Goldman said. If they do, he believes they’ll be sold. Today’s plant-based products are a far cry from the soy patties served in school lunchrooms years ago — and even from more recent veggie burgers. There’s been careful attention to replicating the taste, the aroma, the texture, the look “and even the auditory part of the experience” of meat, he said.

Consumers have latched on. Goldman and Lempert agreed the category had moved well beyond fad to trend; Kroger, for example, has been testing a plant-based section within the meat departments of 60 stores. “This is mainstream,” Lempert said.

From the very beginning, Goldman said, Beyond Meat was aimed at being disruptive — and impacting global challenges. That has taken significant funding and serious research. When he co-founded Honest Tea, Goldman said, the company raised $10 million in its first 10 years. Beyond Meat, however, opened a "Manhattan Beach Project" Innovation Center in 2018 to draw the greatest minds available. And in 2019, Beyond Meat raised $241 million in its initial public offering.

Though Beyond Meat began with red meat and then sausage, it is decidedly building out the category. A one-day pop-up test with KFC, for example, resulted in a mile-long line in the drive-through, he said.

Tests also are underway to diversify ingredients, whether peas, lentils, chickpeas or other elements, all still delivering on taste. The goal is to be “plant-agnostic,” where there’s a process for extracting the protein from any plant possible, which could have a significant impact on world hunger. Goldman gave the example of Bangladesh, where visitors don’t see telephone poles: The country leapfrogged that industry and went straight to cellular. In the same way, he hopes plant-based protein will allow a leapfrog over the livestock industry, more efficiently meeting needs with local resources. Studies showed that a Beyond Meat burger, he said, took 99 percent less water and 93 percent less land to produce than a traditional beef one.

Even in the United States, Goldman said, Beyond Meat hopes to create a “renaissance in rural America” by creating value-added crops like peas.

As for that meat industry? It’s a powerful lobby, but both Goldman and Lempert sense those producers are feeling the heat. The market for plant-based meat, according to Barclays, could reach $140 billion over the next decade.

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