Before the Butcher wants to grow the plant-based protein market

Founder Danny O’Malley on expansion plans and embracing retail sales

Plant protein products from Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are sold at major retailers and restaurant chains nationally, and other big names have entered the fray, including meat producers Tyson, Smithfield, Perdue and Hormel.

Then there’s Before the Butcher and its Uncut brand. While the name is unfamiliar to most consumers, that may be changing sooner than later for the San Diego-based company whose claim to fame is plant-based protein that it says is healthier, less expensive and offers more options.

As sales in foodservice and restaurants were hit hard during the coronavirus pandemic, retail grocers have become increasingly critical for Before the Butcher. NRF spoke with Before the Butcher founder and president Danny O’Malley about embracing retail sales at grocers of all sizes and its early plans to expand internationally.

Danny O'Malley, founder and president of Before the Butcher
Danny O'Malley, founder and president, Before the Butcher

With all the progress that Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods have made in plant-based protein, is Before the Butcher late to the party?

We’re not as late as you think. We’ve been sold in foodservice since April 2018. Within six months, we were being sold across the country. So we’ve already been in foodservice for two years. We were overwhelmed by the business we had in foodservice. Being third is nothing to complain about.

How has the coronavirus pandemic impacted Before the Butcher?

At the time the pandemic started, about 70 percent of our sales were in foodservice and the rest were in retail. We saw a dramatic drop in foodservice but a rise in the retail side so the numbers have flipped — we’re now in 1,000 retail locations across the country. Today we’re about 90 percent retail and 10 percent foodservice but we hope by the end of the year to be at a 50-50 balance.

How hard has that been?

It’s been a challenge. We got slammed by a lot of businesses looking for us to pick up the pieces. We have an incredible sister company and great investors that have helped us, but it slowed.

Where did the company name come from?

When you go to the retail location to buy meat, what do you do? You go to the butcher department, of course. We want you to think about our products before you go to the butcher.

Why do you use a different name at retail for the brand of product that you sell — Uncut?

Prior to moving into retail, we did testing on the Before the Butcher name and there were challenges about it. We knew we needed a product name that was short and simple.

What differentiates you from other brands?

More variety, better nutritionals and a bit more affordability.

We are the first to offer a family of plant-based burgers — regular, savory chicken, roasted turkey and breakfast sausage. That separation has been a big door opener for us.

We have less ingredients than the other guys. We are gluten-free. We are non-GMO. And we have much less sodium than our competitors. Our four-ounce burger has 260 milligrams of sodium while the competition is closer to 400 milligrams.

We’re generally 8 percent to 15 percent cheaper on the shelves than Beyond Meat or Impossible. If Beyond Meat is at $6.99 for two patties, we’re more likely at $5.99. But we are a premium product, so we’re a couple of dollars more per pound than ground beef.

Plant-based protein was so much larger than what any one company could do. I saw opportunities to do more.

How did Before the Butcher come to be as a company?

I was regional food manager on the West Coast with Beyond Meat. I was there in their infancy. It all happened organically. I loved what they were doing, and it fit my lifestyle. I saw they were doing something special.

I also saw that plant-based protein was so much larger than what any one company could do. The more time I spent with them, the more I saw opportunities to do more. I left after three years, in September 2017, and started Before the Butcher.

Where is the Uncut brand mostly sold?

The heaviest concentration is in California but we’re also in Texas, Colorado, Wisconsin, Illinois and Northern Indiana. Soon, you’ll be able to order from our website, too.

Do any major restaurant chains sell Uncut?

We’re mostly in local and regional chains — no national chains. We’re in a lot of local mom and pop restaurants.

You’ve got some of the biggest corporate names as clients as well.

We launched into foodservice by targeting corporate feeders including Snapchat, Yahoo, SpaceX, Google, Uber, Disney and DreamWorks. People perk up and listen when they hear we have products at these companies.

How have you promoted your brand during the pandemic?

Missing the trade show season has been a crushing blow. We just missed the National Restaurant Association Show that didn’t take place.

We do virtual shows and virtual demos. I take what we do at trade shows and go through the whole routine online in virtual demos. I do a cooking demonstration on Zoom and we’ll even send you samples if you want to taste what I made.

What are your post-pandemic plans?

We had hoped to be a $10 million company by the end of this year, but we may be challenged there. We are looking at exporting. We’re already in Asia and we’re in discussions with retailers in Australia and New Zealand.

What’s your biggest challenge?

As we ramp up and scale up to retailers, it’s about making sure we’re keeping all of our employees healthy.

What plant-based product are you still dying to sell?

What we’re missing is an amazing, plant-based hot dog. To me, nobody has done this. We’d love to be the first ones to come out with that.

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