by Sarabeth Davis
Alongside emojis of raw materials—peas, beans, and rice—transforming into emojis of hamburgers, hotdogs, and the popular flexed biceps, Beyond Meat’s Instagram recently described the process of making their plant-based products as “that simple.” Beyond Meat was founded with one basic inquiry: can meat be engineered directly from plants? Can we bypass the animals with whom we so readily associate burgers and bacon and eat more vegetables, grains, and legumes, without sacrificing flavor? Their message—and product—is “that simple.”
Built into its name, Beyond Meat appeals to an audience of animal meat eaters. Now, I’m going to use harsh language here. So if you’re not ready for that, jump down a paragraph. We use words such as “meat,” “ham,” or “steak” to avoid the truth of the matter: “meat” is a proxy for “dead animal flesh, seasoned and charred for human consumption.” Personally, I find “cooked peas and beans”—the reality behind Beyond Meat’s “meat”—quite a bit more appetizing. But I am not Beyond Meat’s primary audience. Beyond Meat combines the cultural and social allure of animal meat with the health and environmental benefits of plant-based eating.
Beyond Meat was the first company to replicate the texture and mouthfeel of animal-derived products, which distinguished them and led to explosive growth. Revenue increased 170% in 2018, 239% in 2019, and 96% by the first half of 2020. They even navigated a global pandemic with finesse. Before the topsy-turvy year of 2020, foodservice (restaurant and fast food distribution) and retail (grocery stores) comprised comparable percentages of their total annual revenue. With 2020’s major hit to foodservice sales, however, Beyond Meat repackaged their foodservice products for retail purposes. They even launched a home delivery box subscription. This resulted in a Q2 global retail revenue increase from $34.1M in 2019 to $99.6M in 2020. While foodservice sales experienced a net decrease—$33.1M in Q2 of 2019 and $13.7M in Q2 of 2020—the company pivoted their strategy and still managed considerable growth.
Look: In every respect, Beyond Meat burgers, sausages, crumbles, and meatballs resemble the real deal. Their sausages have that familiar filmy casing (though made from plants), and their Plant Based Ground looks ominously like any old pound of ground meat you would pick up from the butcher. Their packaging uses bold font and green hues—boasting “35% Less Sat. Fat”—that signals this product means no nonsense.
Experience: Odds are, you will find Beyond Meat products physically adjacent to their animal based counterparts in grocery stores. This allows people who typically purchase standard spicy brats to look over and find Beyond Sausage, witness Beyond Sausage’s perfect assimilation into their routine sausage and pepper hoagie meal, and become loyal customers.
Flavor: I know meat eaters who exclusively consume Beyond Meat products at home, because they prefer the flavor to actual meat. I know vegans who struggle to eat Beyond Meat, because it eerily tastes like actual meat. Need I say more?
Origin: Founder Ethan Brown got in touch with University of Missouri professors Fu-hung Hsieh and Harold Huff to build off their decade-long research on faux meat. In spite of many naysayers, the team worked tirelessly to bring vegans and the nonvegan mainstream alike their groundbreaking product. In May 2019, they went public with one of the most successful IPOs ever.
Purpose: Backed by research, Beyond Meat boasts not only its deliciousness, but also its nutrition and sustainability as compared to traditional animal agriculture. A Beyond Burger uses 99% less water and 90% fewer greenhouse gases than its beef analogue. A new study released August 2020 found improvement in all key health metrics when participants replaced animal-based meat with Beyond Meat’s plant-based meat. These are the metrics that perk people’s ears up. Beyond Meat walks the walk.
If Beyond Meat’s success has to be distilled into one sentence, it’s this: you don’t have to be vegan to try plant-based meat. In 2020, I think we might take for granted the amount of plant-based items on shelves, so I’d like to close with an acknowledgement of how extraterrestrially epic it is that companies like Beyond Meat created animal-free meatballs and breakfast sausages. I mean…
Sarabeth Davis graduates from the University of Pennsylvania this December 2020 with her Bachelor’s in English and French. With extensive experience working in digital marketing and participating in rigorous academic environments, Sarabeth brings a critical lens to the plant-based space. She writes a weekly column for PBW Plant Based Brands! where she analyzes market success of vegan brands. A Kripalu certified yoga instructor and avid foodie, Sarabeth spends her free time practicing and teaching yoga, and caring for 20+ plants, a sourdough starter, a kombucha SCOBY, and a ginger bug. She is eager to bring her industrious spirit to a team where she can continue to learn and grow.