Major vegan brand Beyond Meats, whose investors include Bill Gates, General Mills' 301 Inc. (GIS), Tyson Foods Inc. (TSN) and former McDonald’s Corp. (MCD) CEO Don Thompson, has branched out with another big time grocery partnership after its recent headline deal with Whole Foods Market Inc. (WFM).
While the high-growth startup brand has scored a major win as it distributes its plant-based burger in almost 300 Safeway grocery stores across America, the story about the vegan brand’s mainstream debut has implications for the larger direction of disrupted and transforming global food and beverage industry.
Veggie Burger in the Meat Case
Beyond Meat’s next-gen Beyond Burger, which reportedly “bleeds” and sizzles like real ground beef, has been available at Whole Foods locations and a group of smaller restaurants since last year. Recently, a dining hall at Yale University began serving the vegan burgers.
In Safeway stores across California, Hawaii and Nevada, the vegan option will appear in the meat case in efforts to target traditional meat eaters. As meat consumption reaches unsustainable levels in America and consumers simultaneously demand more protein, startups like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods have used food tech to propose solutions. Instead of staying within the vegan niche, often stereotyped as non-inclusive and strict, Beyond Meats and its peers seek to commercialize veganism, making the trend cool with endorsements from celebrities such as Beyoncé and Bill Clinton. (See also: High US Meat Consumption Drives Food Industry.)
CEO Ethan Brown says entering a conventional grocery store marks a turning point for the 8-year-old startup after a great run at Whole Food over the past few months. While Brown says pricing at $5.99 for a two pack could be an issue for mainstream shoppers, he believes Beyond Burger will undercut beef within the next five years as it scaled up and pays less for inputs.
The popularity of Beyond Meats, and its backing by food giants and renowned investors, demonstrates a shift toward protein foods, premium startup brands and more “natural” products, driven by an increasingly health-conscious and environmentally driven Millennial consumer. Struggling to pinpoint the demand of this consumer cohort, major food companies have been building out venture capital arms like 301 and buying up smaller competitors to generate the innovative flare they themselves lack. (See also: Food Megabrands Danone, General Mills, Kellogg, Campbell to Smaller Rivals: Can't Beat Em', Join Em’.)