Ethan Brown started Beyond Meat in 2009. The company does not publish financial data. Private firms are not required to disclose financial data. Sometimes, news agencies and other sources close to companies can gather this information and report it. However, at the time of this writing, none could be found.
Brown visited his father’s farm on weekends as a kid. He was always unhappy to see how the livestock was being raised which eventually led to him becoming a vegetarian. He also understood traditional farming and how costly that it is, both regarding money and environmental impact. He also explored why we consume protein via livestock and started to explore alternatives.
How the Company Started
Brown wants to satisfy worldwide demand for meat, without producing any real meat. His inspiration was to come up with a meatless alternative that is as close to the real thing as possible.
The company has received a gracious amount of funding. Twitter management, who owns venture capital firm, Obvious, has pitched in. Bill Gates also invested in the company as did Tyson Foods, with a 5% stake.
There has also been some funding received from a Silicon Valley venture capital firm. In total, it has received four rounds of venture capital for $17 million. The Humane Society is a part investor in that amount as well.
According to a story in Business Insider, customers could not tell the difference after they mixed up the products by accident.
Vegans are not particularly fond of processed foods, for which Beyond Meat is a part of. In fact, the closer you want to get to the product tasting like the real thing, the more processing you need to use.
While vegans may not be the main target audience, their support will likely help. It’s certainly better than having them as detractors. Of course, there is something to be said for reducing the production of livestock.
The jury is out on whether the products can serve as direct replacements to their meat counterparts. As you will see below, some people believe you can’t tell the difference, while others feel it doesn’t even come close.
While you can’t make everyone happy, the company will need to make a good portion of people happy for the concept to work.
Why it Works
The company does not need to go after vegan customers. They have no desire to find meat substitutes. These customers are already happy with the likes of Seitan and other meat-like (not quite) products.
Therefore, the company is going after meat lovers who want to cut down on meat consumption. This reduction could be due to health issues or it could be to reduce the environmental impact animals have on the planet. Either way, there is a huge market within this group.
But, it may appeal to vegans who once loved the taste and texture of meat and who may be missing that experience. As the product improves, this could be yet another group to target. The best part is there is nothing for them to feel guilty about. They may even make a good focus group.
It is being sold at Whole Foods. As of this writing, it is in over 100 stores and the list is growing. The company also plans on delivery as part of its distribution.
The biggest source of promotion at this point is via Whole Foods. The company not only stocks the product but does a fair amount of promotion to get it to sell.
Amazon has a few products of Beyond Meat listed. One main product, it’s Beef Free Beast Burger is loaded with too much salt, complains one reviewer. This particular product carries 3 out of 5 stars. This isn’t a tribute by any stretch. However, it is only with seven reviews, so you have to take it with a grain of salt.
Bill Gates stated he could not tell the difference between chicken and the company’s chicken-like products. He became an investor in the company due to this. You can’t get a better endorsement than one full of cash!
Alton Brown visited the production facility of the company in 2013. He was shown the entire operation and later given the product for his test kitchen to try. He felt the product is better than most of its kind. His complaint that, just like meat, when it’s delivered frozen, it does not fare well after defrosting.
He also complained that it was difficult to flavor the non-chicken strips. The flavor is what the flavor is. Still, he too, saw potential that the company would get it right. The company is planning on offering refrigerated delivery in the future to overcome the frozen problem.
Tyson Foods, who sells meat products, is an investor in the company. That is very telling as meat companies never seemed to worry in the past about whether substitute meat products would be viable to compete.
Mark Bittman, a New York Times food journalist, says he could not tell the difference and stated that he does food for a living.
The Associate Press did a taste test with members from its test kitchen. They tried different companies’ meat substitutes and were not happy with any of them. Beyond Meat was included in that test.
They felt that the burger (Beyond Beef Beast) did not come close to tasting like a real burger and one panelist suggested it tasted like it was spoiled beef. The chicken fared even worse. The panel stated the chicken tasted rubbery.
Lessons Learned By The Business
- Brown feels that they are quite close to making meat substitutes where meat lovers cannot tell the difference. He believes he can compete directly for shelf space with meat producers. This is a tall order as these producers have quite a stronghold in this space. However, Tyson Foods is already on board.
- By concentrating on the former meat eaters, the company can help satisfy their craving and get them on board at the same time. This group has friends who still eat meat and they will try to get those meat eaters to try the products.
- Brown doesn’t look at himself as someone who succeeded as that suggests he is done. He encourages failure because of the lessons it gives. He knows and expects to fail again repeatedly and holds that same expectation with his team.
- Ethan Brown also believes in the concept of enjoying life. Otherwise, what’s the point? There has to be a good balance.
- Walk the walk. Brown consumes his product on a daily basis and encourages his team to do the same. When you get to know your own product, you will also figure out what needs to be changed, instead of relying on others to tell you (although that is important too!)
How Other Businesses Can Learn From This
Alternative meat products are going to be controversial. It’s crucial you know exactly who you are going to sell to. Bad press, in the beginning, is going to make it difficult for early adopters to advocate for your brand.
On the other hand, if you choose the right group and a grassroots movement ensues, you can take your concept to the masses.