Yesterday Beyond Meat reported its Q2 2019 earnings. Over the call, the plant-based meat company touched on its high revenue growth, new fast-food partnerships, and product revamp — but CEO Ethan Brown also touched on a recent spate of criticism leveled against the company regarding its products.
From the earnings call transcript:
In my hope that as a company we are helping consumers to understand that there are at least two processes, both of which begin with the same inputs. At a high level, the traditional proteus are in plant material at the form of feed or grasses along with water through an animal. The animal’s biology works from the digestive tract through to the muscular system to convert these inputs to muscle, which are then harvested for meat in processing facilities.
At Beyond Meat, also at a high level, our processes start with the same inputs, plant material, from which we gather protein, lipids, trace minerals and vitamins, and combined with water, run these through a system of heating, cooling, pressure and mixing that build meats directly from plants.
This statement seems to be in direct response to recent pushback Beyond has been getting against its processing methods. Some consumers are put off by the new crop of meatless meat, preferring simpler alternatives like black bean burgers or grass-fed beef. Apparently, that feeling is shared by some restaurant groups. Last week Chipotle’s CEO Brian Niccol said that they didn’t want to serve Beyond Meat or Impossible Foods products because they are too heavily processed.
During the earnings call, Brown was clearly addressing Niccol and others hesitant about Beyond’s production methods.
We offer the consumer transparency. They are welcome to visit our production facilities in Missouri to learn more about how we build meat. It is my belief they will leave inspired and with a stronger understanding that when it comes to meat, it’s not a question of processed or not no matter which process they prefer.
Despite defending Beyond’s processing, well, process, Brown did state that the company is moving towards a more clean-label approach. “The simpler and cleaner the ingredient list, the better, and we’re constantly striving in that direction,” he told investors during the earnings call. He also pointed out that Beyond Meat is free of genetically modified or artificial ingredients.
At the same time, he noted that Beyond is trying to close the taste gap between their product and meat from a cow. Brown estimated that their product tasted roughly 80 percent identical to beef right now, but that bridging that final 20 percent would be a difficult push. Odds are, the solution will lie in even more processing.
Chipotle joins other fast-food chains, such as Taco Bell and Arby’s, who are also choosing to eschew meatless meats. But plenty of others QSR’s — from Dunkin’ to White Castle to Burger King — are hopping on the plant-based protein bandwagon.
Since consumers aren’t typically expecting clean label ingredients when they eat out at fast food, I don’t think that controversy around Beyond’s processing methods will negatively affect future QSR partnerships — especially since meatless meat is having quite the moment in quick-service dining. But when it comes to fast-casual restaurants with a healthy spin, like Chipotle, anti-processing pushback could be a real concern.
Right now, Beyond is stuck between a rock and a hard place. They want to make their plant-based meat taste even more like the real thing, but they also want to make it out of simple, minimally-processed ingredients. I don’t think the company will be able to have their cake — er, burger — and eat it, too.