Versions of plant-based meat substitutes have been available since at least the 1970’s, when MorningStar Farms introduced its line of vegetarian meat substitutes. Although these failed to garner a large or long-lasting consumer base, today plant-based meat is having another moment, in a revival driven by growing demand for healthier food choices that are less harmful to the environment. Unlike the distinctly un-meat-like quality of the original veggie burger, today’s plant-based meat products are produced by sophisticated processes that use a combination of vegetable byproducts, seeds, and grains to mimic the flavor, color, and—likely the most significant achievement in the industry—the mouthfeel of meat.
Consumer interest in a new generation of non-meat products continues to grow, and startups have seized the opportunity to produce improved plant-based products, swiftly closing the taste gap between real and alternative meat.
In the week of April 13-19, daily cattle slaughter fell by nearly 24% YoY and pig slaughter by 13% YoY.
In March 2020, plant-based meat products saw the biggest increase in sales, 231% YoY in grocery store sales, compared to a 40% YoY increase for actual meat. However, by July 2020, plant-based meat grocery sales gradually normalized due to the absence of consumer stockpiling.
The plant-based meat industry is seeing an increase in startups, with more than half of total startups still in pre-seed or seed stage. The majority of the startups are exploring production of meat substitutes, followed by alternative fish and poultry. Currently, only a few startups have explored the supply of plant-based ingredients, although plant-based ingredients are seeing an increase in interest; nearly half of the plant-based ingredient suppliers on the market emerged between 2018-2019.
More than 40% of the startups in the industry already have a commercialized product. Incumbents in the industry have opted to invest in new plant-based startups as an entry strategy, and most are consumer packaged good manufacturers or meat producers.
While Impossible Foods leads alternative meat start-ups with the most funding (USD 1.18 billion, nearly 10 times Beyond Meat’s funding prior to its IPO), Beyond Meat has been more aggressive in its marketing strategy. Beyond Meat has partnerships spanning 64,000 retail and restaurant locations in the US, while Impossible Foods' product is sold in only 17,000 restaurant locations (as of September 2019). Both Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods were valued around USD 4 billion as of March 2020.
Founded in 2009, Beyond Meat is a leading producer of plant-based meat products. The company uses a patented process to convert plant proteins into structures that physically and nutritionally resemble animal protein using a mix of peas, mung bean, fava bean, and brown rice. In 2012, Beyond Meat launched its first plant-based meat product, vegan chicken strips, which was discontinued in 2019 due to the lack of popularity. As of July 2021, the company’s portfolio includes plant-based ground beef, burgers, meatballs, breakfast sausages, links, and beef crumbles, and chicken tenders. The founder and CEO, Ethan Brown also stated plans to bring versions of plant-based bacon and chicken breast products in an interview with the Wall Street Journal in July 2021. Beyond Meat’s flagship product- the Beyond Burger, launched in May 2016 is its single biggest menu item which made up nearly 70% of the company’s revenue in 2018. In an effort to introduce healthier plant-based products, the company is planning to launch two new versions of its Beyond Burger: one claimed to be its juiciest burger yet, with 35% less saturated fat relative to an 80/20 meat-to-fat blend of beef burger, and the other claimed to be its most nutritious burger yet, with 55% less saturated fat than an 80/20 beef burger. Both burgers are expected to be widely available in the US in early 2021.
Beyond Meat, initially starting with co-manufacturing, have later on absorbed them to bring costs down. In November 2020, the company completed the acquisition of its Pennsylvania co-packer for USD 14.5 million. The acquisition was expected to help Beyond Meat lower production costs, test new processes, and increase the cadence of new product launches. The acquisition is expected to help establish a more robust US supply chain; where the Pennsylvania packing plant complements Beyond Meat’s two existing extruded protein manufacturing facilities in Columbia, Missouri. Beyond Meat signed an agreement with Jiaxing Economic & Technological Development Zone (JXEDZ) in China in 2020 to design and develop two production facilities in the zone; of which the first went online in April 2021. This marked Beyond Meat’s first end-to-end manufacturing facility outside of the US. The production facilities in China are expected to push the distribution of Beyond Meat products in China, that are available in through outlets such as Starbucks, KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, METRO China and Freshippo. In 2021, the company collaborated with KFC China to launch a new Plant-Based Spicy Beef Wrap in 2,600 locations across 28 Chinese cities for a limited time. Later in the year, Beyond Meat also launched its first DTC e-commerce site in the Chinese market - an online store on JD.com’s e-commerce platform, with a plan to eventually expand across 300 cities in China.
Since the launch of Beyond Burger, the company has been partnering with major quick-service restaurants such as Starbucks, McDonald’s, Denny’s, Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, Dunkin’, Subway, and KFC to launch menu items inspired by Beyond Meat’s products to expand its presence in the US and internationally. As of March 2021, Beyond Meat’s products were available in more than 71,000 locations across the US, and in more than 47,000 locations in 80 countries. In 2021, The company announced a 3-year strategic partnership with McDonalds, with Beyond Meat being recognized as the preferred patty supplier for the “McPlant” burger. The new “McPlant” plant-based platform is the food chain's latest initiative to launch plant-based products that includes vegetarian burgers to chicken and breakfast offerings. Similarly, Beyond Meat entered into a partnership with Taco Bell to create a new plant-based option that's expected to begin testing by 2022. The company also formed a JV (named “PLANeT Partnership”) with PepsiCo in January 2021 to commercialize new snack and beverage products made from plant-based protein.
For 2020, Beyond Meat recorded a 36.6% YoY increase in net revenue reaching USD 406.7 million. The gain was driven by a 62.6% YoY increase in net revenue in the US. Retail channels fueled the revenue growth, with a 104.1% YoY increase in US markets and 136.4% YoY growth internationally. The company’s retail-to-foodservice revenue mix was at 74: 26 at the end of 2020. This mix is similar to H1 2020 but represents a notable shift from the 57: 43 mix reported in Q1 2020. Beyond Meat also reported an increase in repeat purchases to 55.3% in Q4 2020, up from 51.9% in Q3 2020 and 43.4% for 2019. The company credits the growth in its consumer business to competitive prices. In its latest quarterly earnings, Beyond Meat reported a revenue growth of 22.4 YoY to USD 257.6 million for H1 2021, and provided revenue guidance for Q3 2021, in the range of USD 120 - 140 million, short of wall street's estimates of USD 153.3 million.
Beyond Meat raised a total of USD 122 million in funding prior to being listed. The company’s IPO was considered the most successful in 2019, with its share surging by more than 163% by the close of trading, over the offer price of USD 25.
The commercialization of plant-based meat and its growing popularity pose a potential threat to conventional meat producers, which have responded with different strategies. Tyson Foods, Cargill, and Nestlé have chosen to invest directly in the alternative meat space, strategically positioning themselves to be able to cater to both the meat and the alternative meat markets. Tyson Foods leads among incumbents, investing aggressively in alternative meat startups through its fund, Tyson Ventures.
Supermarkets and grocery stores are also entering into partnerships with alternative meat startups to capture growing demand. Beyond Meat has entered into multiple partnerships with supermarkets and grocery stores, including key players such as Kroger and Albertsons Companies. This strategy is part of what helped extend the startup’s presence in the US to 28,000 retail locations by December 2019. The spike in demand has also driven retailers, such as Albertsons Companies, to introduce their own lines of plant-based foods.
In 2016, the leading beef producer in the US, Tyson Foods, launched Tyson Ventures LLC with an initial fund of USD 150 million. The venture fund’s main objective is to invest in brands that could help create a more sustainable food future. The venture fund has invested in Beyond Meat, Memphis Meats, New Wave Foods, and Future Meat Technologies, an Israeli startup. The venture fund exited Beyond Meat in April 2019, when the startup expected to go public in May 2019 (it held a 6.52% stake). Beside investing in alternative meat startups, Tyson Ventures has also invested in Big Idea Ventures, a seed fund that makes investments in alternative protein startups.
Tyson Ventures was a good strategic fit with the vision of then Tyson Foods CEO Tom Hayes, who has said he viewed Tyson Foods as “a protein company” not entirely dependent on meat production. His departure in September 2018 has not changed that trajectory; the new CEO Noel White developed a line of Tyson Foods’ own plant-based products. In June 2019, Tyson Foods launched Raised & Rooted, the company’s product line that produces both fully plant-based proteins and products that combine meat or eggs with plant-based protein. Its two main products are Nuggets (a combination of pea protein, egg whites, and other plant ingredients) and Patties Blended with Angus Beef. In October 2020, Jack in the Box launched its first-ever plant-based sandwich; named "Unchicken" made with plant-based chicken filets from Raised & Rooted. Tyson Foods announced that it will remove the egg whites from plant-based nuggets produced by Raised & Rooted beginning in December 2020 and expressed plans to make all of its plant-based products vegan-friendly in the future.
In January 2021, Jimmy Dean, a subsidiary of Tyson Foods, launched two new varieties of vegan breakfast sandwiches: Jimmy Dean Plant-Based Patty, Egg & Cheese Croissant Sandwich and Jimmy Dean Delights Plant-Based Patty & Frittata Sandwich.