Tyson Foods takes 5% stake in Beyond Meat: 'It meets our desire to offer consumers choices'

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

The Beyond Burger on sale at Whole Foods
The Beyond Burger on sale at Whole Foods

Related tags Hamburger Nutrition Vice president Beyond meat

Tyson Foods - one of the world's largest processors and marketers of chicken, beef, and pork - has taken a 5% stake in plant-based protein producer Beyond Meat.

The investment will provide additional capital to help the El Segundo-based company expand its product portfolio and distribution, said Beyond Meat, which noted that it "will remain an independent, privately held company led by founder and CEO Ethan Brown."

Tyson Foods’ Executive Vice President of Strategy and New Ventures & President of Foodservice, Monica McGurk, added: “We’re enthusiastic about this investment, which gives us exposure to a fast-growing segment of the protein market. It meets our desire to offer consumers choices and to consider how we can serve an ever-growing and diverse global population, while remaining focused on our core prepared foods and animal protein businesses.” 

Beyond Burger now in seven states

In a recent distribution update to fans​ on its website, Beyond Meat said that the Beyond Burger – the first refrigerated plant-based patty to sit in the meat counter - was now available in Whole Foods Market stores in seven states: “It is still being shelved in the meat department, where it's captivating unsuspecting carnivores, but we're happy to report that some of these stores are also stocking it in the meat-alternatives aisle.”

The progress of the ready-to-cook pea-protein-based patty, which is shipped frozen but merchandised in stores’ refrigerators, is being watched carefully by trendwatchers and analysts keen to see if plant-based burgers can move from the niche to the mainstream.

Speaking to us earlier this year CEO Ethan Brown said: “Our goal has always been to get in the meat case, where you have a market that is orders of magnitude higher in terms of purchase frequency and volume​ [compared to the frozen vegetarian/meat alternatives section of the grocery store].”

He did not say whether the product performed better in the meat, or in the meat alternatives case, however.

Ethan_Brown_Beyond Meat landscape 2

"Since late May, I have watched Beyond Burger sales data roll in from meat departments at an increasing number of Whole Foods stores. The encouraging numbers tell me, in a way that no other feedback can, that the idea of building meat—yes, actual meat, in its intricate assembly of protein, fats, and water—from plants is not only possible, but desirable to consumers of varied dietary stripes.

"Today, we take another step toward the broader market as we welcome Tyson Foods to Beyond Meat as a minority investor. The investment provides an opportunity for each party to get to know one another and to explore possible collaborations (Tyson touches 2 of 5 plates in the United States). My willingness to engage with Tyson may unsettle the most ardent supporters of our brand. Tyson will also likely hear disapproval from certain stakeholders, suppliers, and consumers. Yet in both cases, I like to think that our nascent relationship is a hopeful sign. A sign that we may be moving beyond Oprah v. Cattlemen and toward productive collaboration that expands consumer choice.

"I don't expect to change Tyson. Nor does Tyson expect to change me. Instead, we both intend to serve the changing consumer."

Ethan Brown, Beyond Meat co-founder, in a blog post​ this morning

'Telling consumers not to eat things they love, that’s a lousy way to run a business...'

Co-founded by Ethan Brown and Brent Taylor in 2009, Beyond Meat launched its first products on the national stage in 2013, and is now in 11,000+ stores including Publix, HEB, Target, and Whole Foods, with products including single-serve meals, Beast burgers and sliders (made from non-GMO pea protein); Beyond Chicken strips, tenders and poppers (made from non-GMO soy and pea protein); and Beyond Beef crumbles and meatballs (made with non-GMO pea protein).

Based in El Segundo, California, with a manufacturing facility in Columbia, Missouri, Beyond Meat has the license to use a patented process to make meat-replicas developed by Fu-Hung Hsieh and Harold Huff at the University of Missouri, and is on a mission “to create mass-market solutions that perfectly replace animal protein with plant protein.”

To date, Beyond Meat has secured financial backing from high-profile investors including General Mills’ 301 Inc venture arm, Seth Goldman, Bill Gates, VC legend Kleiner-Perkins Caulfield & Byers (which backed Amazon and Google - before everyone else did), The Obvious Corporation (an investment vehicle created by the founders of Twitter), and the Humane Society of the United States.

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