When it comes to Beyond Meat—the company that, along with Impossible Burger, made plant-based meat palatable even to carnivores—the public at large seems to love it. Their sales more than doubled in 2019, with shares jumping 21 percent. The majority of people buying the product aren’t even vegetarian, which speaks volumes to the authentic meat-like taste the company has worked hard to mimic.
But within the wellness world, many healthy eaters love to hate Beyond Meat. When the company came up in Well+Good’s Cook With Us Facebook group, several members passionately chimed in that the brand’s products weren’t even healthy. “I stay away from anything pretending to be something else,” a commenter said. Health experts have also cautioned about the highly-processed nature of this new crop of alt-meat burgers, and criticized Beyond’s high levels of saturated fat.
Want to learn more about the nutritional value of the Beyond Burger? Check out what a top dietitian has to say:
Here’s the thing, though: Beyond Meat isn’t necessarily trying to be the healthiest plant-based option. It instead aims to accomplish what few other plant-based products have: widespread accessibility.
Taking on the (plant-based) food desert
If you’re in a city like Miami, Los Angeles, or New York, finding healthy, plant-based foods usually isn’t too difficult, depending on the neighborhood. But according to non-profit The Food Trust, roughly 39.4 million people live in food deserts, geographic areas where access to affordable, healthy food options is limited or nonexistent because grocery stores are too far away.
While grocery stores are certainly a big part of Beyond Meat’s business (that’s where they first launched to the public), the realities of food access means that fast food partners are the current focus of their brand expansion. With 8,500 Dunkin’ Donuts locations, 4,200 KFCs, and 24,798 (!) Subway restaurants in the US—all places where you will start to see Beyond Meat products on the menu—plant-based meat is working overtime to go mainstream. “Accessibility is one of the biggest impacts we want to have,” Will Schafer, Beyond Meat’s vice president of marketing says. “When we look at [which restaurants] to partner with, places like Subway give us the chance to make our product so much more accessible and affordable.” At Dunkin, for example, a Beyond Meat breakfast sandwich is $4.29 (roughly a dollar more than the meat option) and at KFC, the Beyond Meat fried chicken wings are $1 each.
“Just like there’s a new iPhone every year, we want there to be a new iteration of the burger.” —Will Schafer, vice president of marketing at Beyond Meat
Of course, when you formalize plans to make a product available in each of a chain’s locations, your production team has to be ready for it. “Last summer, we were in a tough spot where we couldn’t fulfill all the orders. But we learned from that lesson and have ramped up our supply chain and operations and capacity much more aggressively and are prepared to handle this demand now,” Schafer says, adding that each fast food deal is made years before it’s officially announced to the public. The company opened a second facility last year in Missouri, increasing their manufacturing footage from 30,000 to 100,000 square feet, and hired 250 more people.
Outside of fast food chains and major affordable supermarkets like Target, Publix, and Safeway, Beyond Meat is also popping up in various hospital and college cafeterias, including Yale University, Harvard University, and Ohio State. “Anywhere you would find a conventional burger, we want to be as well,” Schafer says. When you think about what that looks like, it’s a pretty powerful thought.
Is a Beyond Burger the same as a plate full of greens? Of course not. Does it fix the many issues in our food system that prevent people from having affordable, easy access to quality products and foods? No. But for vegan eaters trying to get some protein (or people who want to eat less meat in general), the fact that they can do so at a more affordable price without having to schlep to a specialty store is a big deal.
Taking it global
Despite some hiccups, their strategy is working: Beyond Meat products are available in over 12,000 restaurant and food service venues as well as thousands of grocery stores in the U.S., and they’re projected to hit $358 million in revenue in 2020. Schafer adds that Beyond Meat operates on a global scale and the brand’s products are currently available in 65 countries, including Germany (their most popular country outside of the US), Korea, and Israel. While the focus abroad has been on entering more grocery markets and smaller burger restaurants, he hints that the brand is in talks to expand overseas with a similar strategy as in the States.
Of course, they have a major competitor in the form of Impossible Foods, which also has its plant-based burger on fast food menus (Burger King and White Castle) and at restaurants. But after some challenges with regulatory approvals, it will be moving into grocery stores alongside Beyond Meat products by mid-2020. This is a big deal, since per CNBC, Beyond reported half of its revenue came from grocery store sales in Q2. Despite the competition heating up (and more alt-meat burgers crowding the space), Beyond Meat says it has no plans to change their strategy.
Additionally, Schafer says that Beyond Meat will continue to constantly reformulate the actual products so they will be even better tasting and healthier. Just this year, they rolled out plant-based ground beef, sausages, and a reformulation of the original burger, which now has coconut oil and coconut butter to give it a juicer flavor when grilled. “Just like there’s a new iPhone every year, we want there to be a new iteration of the burger,” he says. Maybe one of those iterations will have the wellness set officially giving their approval.