Plant-Based Meat … a Moment or a Movement?

August 1, 2019 | A Look Inside the Burgeoning 'Plant-Based Meat' Business

The ‘plant-based meat’ movement is making waves across the United States. The consumer- driven impact is so evident that iconic, established burger-sellers like McDonald’s, Burger King, and even White Castle are falling in line and adding meatless options to their menus. Two companies leading sales in the new space are Beyond Meats and Impossible Foods, both of which have raised hundreds of millions of dollars to expand product lines and deliver exponentially increasing supply to the market. We’ll take a closer look at each of these companies later in this letter.

First, it is worth exploring how we got here. The food and health narrative has shifted over the past couple of years. Research now increasingly points to significant health benefits from eliminating meat from a diet, among which include reduced risk of heart disease and colon cancer (by 24%). For many, beef is also known to cause inflammation and reduced blood flow, while plant-based foods have been shown to do the opposite.

The awareness and acceptance of plant-based diets is spreading far into the public eye, as athletes ranging from Olympians to NFL linebackers are embracing change in what they eat.

Tom Brady, a five-time Super Bowl winner who at age 41 remains an elite NFL player, eats a mostly organic, local, and plant-based diet with no highly-processed foods. Alex Honnold, the superhuman climber who scaled El Capitan in Yosemite with no ropes or assistance, is a vegetarian. Dozens of NBA and NFL players have shifted to vegan diets—including defensive lineman and linebackers. Leonel Messi, perhaps the greatest soccer player ever to play the game, keeps his speed, quickness and form at the age of 32 with a diet consisting mostly of 5 key foods: water, olive oil, whole grains, fresh fruit and fresh vegetables. His nutritionist has been quoted saying, “Sugar is the worst thing for the muscles. The farther he stays away from sugars, the better. Refined flours are also a big problem as these days, it’s difficult to find uncontaminated wheat.”

The enthusiasm for plant-based alternatives is also rooted in environmental impact. Cor- porations are increasingly sensitive to public opinion as it relates to the environment, and production of plant-based meat alternatives uses less water and emits far few greenhouse gasses than production of beef. Millennials in particular are increasingly making consumption decisions based on sustainability and environmental impact, which supports demand for plant-based, environmentally-friendly burger/meat options.

As consumer preferences shift, the food industry is adapting along with it. Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods represent the commercial, industrial response to exponentially rising demand for plant-based alternatives. In a sense, plant-based ‘meats’ are to the food industry what Tesla has been to the auto industry, both from an environmental and consumer preferences standpoint. This may best explain the current moment Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are experiencing.

At a $10 billion market capitalization, the 10-year old company Beyond Meat is only $2 billion less valuable than the Campbell Soup Company, which was founded in 1869. Impossible Foods remains a private company, but securing financing for the Silicon-Valley based start-up has not been an issue—the company just raised $300 million in its latest round, bringing its fundraising total up to $750 million.

The financial marketplace clearly views the plant-based industry as paradigm-shifting within the food industry, if not outright revolutionary. In this piece, we’ll take a closer look inside the business and specifically the plant-based burger – deconstructing the appeal of plant-based options, its nutritional makeup, environmental impact, and the financials surrounding the business.

WHAT’S INSIDE THE PLANT-BASED BURGER?

Traditional plant-based burgers are largely composed of black beans and mushrooms which, while healthy, often leave much to be desired in terms of taste and texture. Smaller craft operators have responded by experimenting with different ingredients. Roam Burger in San Francisco, for instance, makes their veggie patty from quinoa, brown rice, black beans, and beets (it’s delicious). Chickpea patties and various combinations of rice, mushrooms, kale, and beans are common.

Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, with ambitions to produce plant-based burgers at industrial scale, are using scientific research to manipulate plant proteins in new, flavorful ways. Part of the paradigm shi for the food industry is that these companies have developed plant-based meats that now taste and behave more like beef than ever before, while still offering some—but not comprehensive—plant-based health benefits. If the small craft operators are more focused on appeasing vegetarians and vegans, Beyond and Impossible are trying to reach everyone who enjoys a burger. Which is to say, just about everyone.

With industrial scale comes sacrifice, however. Plant-based burgers do not t neatly into plant-focused diets because they are not actually made from vegetables. Beyond Meat’s patties are made of four main ingredients: water, pea protein isolate, canola oil, and re ned coconut oil. ese ingredients provide the protein and juiciness of the burger. But after eating one, consumers should not assume they are any closer to a healthy daily vegetable intake.

The Impossible Burger is made up of soy protein concentrate, coconut oil, and sunflower oil, making saturated fat levels about the same as a traditional beef patty but with over four times the amount of sodium. At the end of the day, plant-based burgers and meats eliminate beef, but they remain highly processed foods.

Even still, comparing the nutritional data of a four-ounce Beyond Burger and four-ounce 80/20 ground beef burger underscores a few of the plant-based health benefits. USDA nutritional data shows that Beyond Burgers offer more protein and iron with less saturated fat, cholesterol, total fat, and calories than ground beef.

There is not enough data to suggest that switching from red meat to plant-based burgers will make a person any more or less healthy over time. But many consumers are also drawn to the environmental benefits of plant-based options. Beyond Meat commissioned a study with the Center for Sustainable Systems at the University of Michigan to conduct a ‘cradle-to-distribution’ life cycle assessment of its best-selling burger. Researchers took a comprehensive look at the product, analyzing greenhouse gas emissions, energy use, water consumed, land use, and even packaging in comparison to an uncooked quarter-pound beef burger delivered to retail outlets.

The results indicated significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE), as well as land and water use.

Beyond Meat’s ingredients are also markedly more sustainable than beef, while demonstrating a massive reduction in stress on soil and water systems.

The study recommended improvements to Beyond Meat’s packaging, but the overall findings support the perception that plant-based meats are better for the environment than their traditional counterparts—a potential source of long-term appeal for consumers.

PLANT-BASED MEATS AS A BUSINESS AND A POTENTIAL INVESTMENT

The global market for meat is a $1.4 trillion, which plant-based manufacturers want to tap – in addition to increasing its overall size. Estimates for plant-based meats range from $40 to $100 billion in earnings over the next 10 to 15 years, while costs are likely to decrease as the industry grows and supply chains develop further.

Plant-based meats tend to be more expensive to produce, and Beyond and Impossible range on the higher end of the price spectrum. Beyond Burgers sell for about $12 a pound at Whole Foods, while Whole Foods 365 brand vegetable burger patties sell for $6.40 a pound and ground beef goes for $5 a pound at the same store. A similar discrepancy exists in restaurants, where Beyond and Impossible Burgers sell for an average of $14.

Higher pricing, however, has not dissuaded consumers and investors so far. Nielsen data for June showed that Beyond Meat takeaways – a measure of retail sales – had increased 189.1% in four weeks. In July, that number had increased to 208%.

Meatless burgers are now on sale at 15% of U.S. restaurants, up from just 3% a year earlier. One of the big reasons for the jump came from the impact of fast-food chains offering a meatless option. Burger King now serves a meatless “Impossible Whopper,” which the company says drove a 17% increase in visits from March to April this year. White Castle was another noteworthy chain to add a meatless option with the Impossible Slider, contributing to a 4% increase in same store sales. Other major restaurant chains like TGI Fridays, Del Taco, Carl’s Jr., and Red Robin are queuing up for orders.

Demand is growing at such a fast clip that Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are already having difficulty meeting growing demand. Shortages are common and both companies are rapidly opening new plants to try and increase capacity.

Beyond Meat made a huge splash in its Wall Street debut, but the bottom line remains that the company has yet to turn a profit. The company managed to more than double revenue from $21.1 million (first 9 months of 2017) to $56.2 million (first 9 months of 2018). But net losses for the first nine months of 2018 came in at -$22.4 million, and the full year loss in 2017 was -$30.4 million. Questions remain about whether Beyond Meat can meet demand from restaurant chains while working to turn a profit, but perhaps the biggest question hanging over the company is whether a giant corporation like Tyson Foods will disrupt the space with a cheaper alternative.

CONCLUSION

Plant-based meats are part of an ever-evolving, potential- filled, and increasingly competitive space. There is not an unreasonable argument that plant-based alternatives are to the food industry what Tesla is to the auto industry—an innovative product making a massive bet on how the world will look in the future. While profitability remains elusive—and questions persist as to whether plant-based meat companies can meet demand as they expand into fast-food chains like McDonald’s and Burger King—the burgeoning industry continues to deliver rapid growth with health and environmental appeal.

We hope you found this analysis insightful and useful, and we encourage you to contact us with any questions or thoughts.