Before the Butcher's new launch achieves a collective goal of the plant-based meat industry: price parity with ground beef.
Mainstream Plant-Based Patties, which officially launch today, are a less expensive option for plant-based burgers. These burgers, which are made for the freezer section and sold in 2-pound packages of eight quarter-pound patties, have a suggested price of $10.99 per package — about $1.37 per patty, or about $5.50 per pound. These prices are close to average prices of lean ground beef, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Before the Butcher Founder and President Danny O'Malley said the goal of the Mainstream line was to produce a plant-based burger that was affordable to all consumers. Other plant-based burgers can cost up to $8 at the grocery store for two patties.
"In plant-based meats, especially plant-based burgers today, they're really premium products and quite expensive for the average person to buy regularly," O'Malley said. "We wanted to make a product that was affordable for the average person to buy on a regular basis, and to make an easier choice between a ground beef burger and a plant-based burger when they look at the shelves side by side — that they look and not worry about the price."
Mainstream will be available to both retail and foodservice clients, and O'Malley expects consumers will start finding them on shelves and menus at the end of the year. Before the Butcher's main product line, Uncut, is a more premium product, and its burgers and grounds are currently at more than 600 grocery stores nationwide — though many of the stores are in the more upscale natural channel. O'Malley said Mainstream may follow at some of those grocery stores, though he hopes its low cost will help it appear in many of the more discount-level stores where consumers who are looking for bargains tend to shop.
How did they get the price down?
Mainstream has been a major project for Before the Butcher for the last seven months, O'Malley said.
As the coronavirus pandemic shuttered restaurants, forced businesses to close and ushered the country into a recession, O'Malley said the launch of a budget burger got that much more important to Before the Butcher. The company's overriding goal, he said, is making the meatless mainstream, hence the name of the new product.
"People are looking at ways to save a little money, and we want to help them do that and continue to reach their own personal goals," he said.
Before the Butcher made changes on four levels to be able to lower the price for Mainstream, O'Malley said. In manufacturing, logistics and business practices, they got much more efficient. The packaging is simpler, and as a "value pack," it costs less in total. The ingredients in Mainstream are both less premium and more tailored to a frozen product than a refrigerated one.
"We wanted to make a product that was affordable for the average person to buy on a regular basis, and to make an easier choice between a ground beef burger and a plant-based burger when they look at the shelves side by side — that they look and not worry about the price."
Founder and president, Before the Butcher
In ingredients, O'Malley said the company looked for lower-cost versions of what was in their Uncut burgers. There are different grades of ingredients like soy, spices and fats. Additionally, Uncut products include several natural preservatives because they are refrigerated and need to be able to last in grocers' and consumers' refrigerators. With Mainstream being designed for the freezer, O'Malley said many of those expensive ingredients can be left out.
"We certainly have made some adjustments," O'Malley said. "If you were to try the Mainstream burger next to
the Uncut burger, you would notice a difference in taste, but the actual functionality is very, very similar."
The only time plant-based meat came close to this level of price parity was in Beyond Meat's Cookout Classic 10-packs sold for a limited time this summer. These packages had a suggested retail price of $15.99, or $1.60 per patty.
Fitting outside of the segment's mainstream
Mainstream was designed to appeal to a completely different consumer than Before the Butcher's Uncut, O'Malley said.
In fact, the plant-based segment is so large and growing so quickly, he doesn't fear losing any Uncut customers to Mainstream. Uncut — as well as most other plant-based meat products — is designed to be sold in the refrigerated section, ideally next to conventional ground beef, O'Malley said.
Mainstream is destined for somewhere else entirely. Most grocery stores have a freezer case with pre-made hamburger patties and other items to make a quick meal. They often cost less than patties that have to be created by consumers, and can go quickly from the freezer to the grill.
"What we're doing is just enhancing our ability to reach out to customers of all levels," O'Malley said. "Generally, people that gravitate to that area are looking for a more affordable burger. They wouldn't likely buy the fresh burgers because of the cost."
The branding, packaging and consumer targeting for Mainstream is also completely different than that of Uncut, O'Malley said. It's unlikely that consumers will get confused or quickly swap the less expensive product for the premium one.
Before the Butcher is also ready to speed forward with making enough of both Mainstream and Uncut products to meet growing demand. O'Malley said the company's current manufacturing capacity is 10 million pounds a year, thanks to its acquisition last year by private investors Gregg and Jeff Hamann, who also own ground beef producer Jensen Meat Company. Through the larger company's financial flexibility, O'Malley said Before the Butcher is currently working on a facility behind its headquarters in San Diego to double its output, and will be able to make 20 million pounds a year by the end of 2020.
O'Malley hopes that in time, Mainstream will extend into other product lines, including plant-based pork and chicken, which Uncut sells at a premium level to foodservice. He also thinks other plant-based companies will be looking at Mainstream with keen interest.
"I would lift my eyebrow on it and say, 'Wow, look at what they did,'" O'Malley said. "And I think some of the other plant-based meat companies out there are certainly looking at ways to reduce costs and to bring the price down. I think that's a goal for all of us, and I think I would venture to guess everybody's kind of working on it. We just were obviously a little bit more aggressive."