- Beyond Meat is lacking in environmental impact disclosures when compared to conventional meat giants Hormel and Tyson Foods, according to an analysis by Trucost, a part of S&P Global Market Intelligence.
- The analysis, which looked at company reporting in 2018, gave Tyson 98% on its weighted environmental disclosure ratio. This looks at how much the company tells about its complete operational environmental impact and costs. Hormel got a 99% in this category. Beyond Meat scored a 0%. The analysis also gave both traditional meat companies 100% scores on their weighted disclosure for greenhouse gases, which is reporting their emissions and costs in this area. Beyond Meat received a 0%.
- In a statement about the report emailed to Food Dive, Beyond Meat said the company is committed to making plant-based meat that is better for people and the planet. It noted work in 2018 the company did with the University of Michigan to quantify the environmental benefits of producing the Beyond Burger versus conventional beef. Beyond Meat added that "we are in the process today of conducting a carbon-footprint assessment aimed at identifying opportunities to strengthen our environmental commitment and further reduce our impact," the statement said.
On the surface, this looks like a report that slams one of the stars in the plant-based meat segment for not really being committed to sustainability.
But a deeper question is whether this assessment is even fair. The scores in this report are based on specific disclosures, not on actual sustainability. The report shows that the plant-based company doesn't produce the same kinds of environmental reports.
While 2018 was just two years ago, it was another time altogether for Beyond Meat. The plant-based meat company had its IPO in the middle of 2019. At that point, Beyond Meat had never posted a profit and only had one major product: the Beyond Burger. While the Beyond Burger at this point was available at about 28,000 places — including 11,000 restaurants and foodservice outlets — it had not yet expanded its distribution beyond the United States.
Beyond Meat has evolved significantly since its IPO. In its most recent quarter, the company recorded $113.3 million in revenues — a year-over-year increase of 69% — and $33.7 million in gross profits. And today, the company's products, which also include Beyond Sausage, are available at 112,000 grocery and foodservice outlets in 85 countries, according to the company.
Conventional meat companies, on the other hand, have had more stable operations for decades. Tyson Foods got its start in the 1930s and Hormel was established in 1891. Both businesses have published corporate sustainability and responsibility reports for years.
The S&P Global Market Intelligence report points out that few companies are producing similar sustainability reports on their plant-based products. Nestlé and Unilever both have large divisions dedicated to plant-based food, and both produce company-wide corporate responsibility and sustainability reports. But neither breaks out exactly how much of their sustainability and greenhouse gas mitigation is attributable to their plant-based divisions, S&P's report says.
Even Impossible Foods, which is the closest parallel to Beyond Meat, doesn't have these specific sustainability reports easily available. Impossible is a private company, but it also solely focuses on plant-based meat. Impossible Foods' website is full of information that quantifies how much more sustainable Impossible Burgers are compared to conventional meat, focusing on potential impacts of both to global warming, water consumption and land use. But it's not as easy to find statistics that detail the exact impact the company's operations have on the environment or quantify its emission of greenhouse gases.
Looking at the metrics from Beyond Meat's sustainability analysis — showing a Beyond Burger needs 99% less water, 93% less land, 46% less energy and produces 90% less greenhouse gas than a conventional burger — it cannot be said that the company is less sustainable than those producing conventional meat. It's also difficult to make the case that sustainability-minded investors should be more wary about putting their money into Beyond Meat because it doesn't clearly disclose how much pollution it is responsible for.
However, as Beyond Meat grows past a niche startup into a bigger player in the protein space, it would be prudent for the company to do this kind of report. As a company that touts its sustainability to consumers, putting together these reports would be one more way to make a favorable comparison to the conventional meat competitors is is trying to catch.
Correction: A previous version of this article included the author's first impression, which may not have been the first impression of all readers.