It can be said that 2019 was the year plant-based meat truly went mainstream.
Plant-based meat is worth $800 million, or 2% of total packaged meat sales in the United States, according to data from the Good Food Institute, Plant Based Foods Association and SPINS. Consumers just about anywhere in the country can buy plant-based meat at their local grocery stores. And plant-based items are on the menu at many chain restaurants nationwide, ranging from Burger King to Dunkin' to Pizza Hut.
If all of this exposure wasn't enough, one of the hottest IPOs of the year focused even more attention on the plant-based meat space. When Beyond Meat went public in May, its stock was initially valued at $25 per share. Investors pounced on the sector's potential, helping the stock prices reach as much as $138.95 in its first months on the market.
Beyond Meat's IPO, combined with its ubiquity in grocery store meat cases and on menus, ensured that everyone was talking about plant-based meat and its possibilities. This year, the brand snagged headlines, drove sales and inspired copycats from Big Food companies ranging from Nestlé to Kellogg.
The decade-old company also posted its first profit in its most recent quarter — something that eludes many startups for years. This is a huge deal considering that last year, Beyond Meat had a net loss of $29.9 million, noting in an amended filing before its IPO the company "may be unable to achieve or sustain profitability."
While Beyond Meat had a banner year, Chief Growth Officer Chuck Muth told Food Dive it wasn't necessarily trying to push past competition — even though it's cemented its status as a category leader. Muth said the Beyond Burger is No. 1 in food service as well as the fastest growing brand there, according to NPD Group, and No. 2 overall, but growing 20 times faster than the overall leader, according to SPINS.
"We were concerned with our own brand, but we're also concerned with the category. We can't be successful if the category doesn't grow," Muth said. "...That's why you won't hear us talking negatively about any of our competitors in the category. You know, our real competition is, in fact, the $1.4 trillion [animal-derived meat] category."
"If we can produce products that essentially don't require a sacrifice on taste but are healthier for you and at an affordable price, we don't see why consumers wouldn't pursue that."
Chief growth officer, Beyond Meat
However, Beyond Meat is doing more than just competing. In the most recent quarter, net revenues increased 250% over the same time last year, to $92 million. Gross profits were $32.8 million — 35.6% of net revenues.
The multiplying value and attention for Beyond Meat is almost unheard of in the plant-based industry, Good Food Institute Executive Director Bruce Friedrich noted in a release after Beyond Meat's IPO. The only other company with such a successful IPO was plant-based dairy pioneer WhiteWave Foods, which raised $391 million with its 2012 IPO and was bought by Danone for $12.5 billion in 2017.
"Investors recognize that this is not a niche but a mainstream movement and a huge business opportunity," Friedrich said. "The plant-based meat industry is thriving, and consumers can't get enough. Companies are racing to keep up with intense consumer demand for their products and, certainly for Beyond Meat, revenue is rising rapidly year-on-year."
As consumers become more concerned with sustainability issues and the negative health effects of eating meat, more are turning to plant-based products. Muth said there is a more conscious choice for Beyond Meat's products now, and that is going to continue.
"If we can produce products that essentially don't require a sacrifice on taste but are healthier for you and at an affordable price, we don't see why consumers wouldn't pursue that. ...That's particularly important for younger consumers. I think they're much more open to it," he said.
Beyond Meat's plans for the future are based on expansion of all sorts. Muth wouldn't disclose exactly what consumers may see coming, but noted the company is investing heavily in R&D. The company will be working to develop new products for consumers worldwide, he said. Beyond Meat products are currently in 53 countries, and the company plans to pursue the same growth in some of them as it has seen in the U.S.
Here at home, getting into new product lines is important. Following up on the company's extremely successful test of Beyond Chicken at an Atlanta KFC, which sold out of the product in one day, Muth said poultry is "definitely going to be part of our future."
Abroad, there are factories and new supply chains coming soon. The company is working on a manufacturing facility to open in the Netherlands in the first quarter of 2020. Seth Goldman, executive chairman of Beyond Meat's board, told Reuters in November the company is looking to get manufacturing and supply chains in China to serve the Asian market by the end of next year.
Even as the company continues to grow and take on the established food system, it will stay focused on the ideals it held when it was founded in 2009. And, CEO Ethan Brown promised, according to a transcript of an earnings call with the company's most recent quarterly report, more disruption is on the way.
"We will continue to apply a singular focus to our singular goal, building meat perfectly from plants and making it widely accessible globally," Brown said. "We spend no time debating budget allocation between competing commercial divisions. We are not beholden to some cost tied to a traditional industry or to entrenched supply chain. Instead, we nurture an aspirational challenger brand born out of consumers' desire for something new from someone new."