It seems the end of 2019 was a mixed bag for Beyond Meat. On its earnings call yesterday, the plant-based protein company reported quarterly revenue that exceeded analyst estimates but narrowly fell short of profitability. On the call, Beyond’s CEO Ethan Brown also pointed to retail expansions and new fast-food partners, and called out recent backlash from the meat industry against plant-based proteins.
Numbers and drama aside, the part of the call that made me perk up was Beyond’s ambitious plans for international expansion. “This is a time of growth for Beyond Meat,” CEO Ethan Brown stated on the call. He added that the company plans to open a new co-packing facility in the Netherlands by the end of this quarter, which will “increase the availability and speed with which we can get Beyond Meat’s products to customers across Europe and the Middle East.”
But most of all, Beyond has set its crosshairs on Asia. “We [will] continue to focus on Asia with the goal of producing in the region before the end of 2020,” said Brown. If successful, that would give the company a quick foothold for establishing a strong presence in the region, and specifically China, which is something of the holy grail for the plant-based meat sector. Beyond has added incentive to move quickly because one of its most prominent competitors, Impossible Foods, also recently stated intentions to start selling its meatless meat (specifically pork) to Chinese consumers.
When asked by an investor how Beyond plans to cater to the distinct taste profiles of each region, Asia and otherwise, Brown brushed him aside. He said that the R&D for regional development would not be a “massive investment” for the company. He went on to say that first and foremost, Beyond was trying to create a “blank canvas” which can be used regionally to make distinct products that cater to local tastes. “So to some degree, it’s really about just being as true as we possibly can to the taste, texture, appearance and aroma of the animal protein that we’re targeting.”
As Beyond prepares to put the pedal to the metal on its international expansion, regional R&D might actually be an area which will require more attention than Brown expects. That’s especially true of Asian consumers, which often have different taste preferences than Western diners — a fact that David Yeung, CEO of Hong Kong-based alternative meat company Omnipork, which already sells via Taco Bell in China, pointed out to me last year.
If you’ve been reading the news at all lately, you might wonder: Will the coronavirus hinder these international expansion plans? According to Brown, not at all. He told Yahoo Finance this week that the coronavirus would not prevent the company from selling in China in 2020. “It adjusts some of our plans, but I am not taking my foot off the gas,” he said. Brown just better be prepared to hit some roadblocks (local tastes, international supply chain snafus, and coronavirus panic) on the road ahead.