Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA as the Beyond Burger hit menus across all 469 TGI Fridays locations in the US, Goldman said Beyond Meat had notched up triple digit revenue growth in 2017 through tracked retail channels, driven in part through the rapid growth of the Beyond Burger, but also through continued growth for the frozen products, which had benefited from the buzz around the burger.
“There’s been a lot of publicity around the Beyond Burger [which is sold refrigerated as a ready-to-cook patty] and when people ask about it in stores that don’t carry the burger yet, they are often directed to the frozen case where we have our other products."
He added: “Initially there was some pushback to selling plant-based meat next to [regular] meat, but because we started small and proved the concept with Whole Foods, and then Safeway in Northern California, we had data to show other retailers that it was working, so we didn’t keep having to have that same conversation again and again.”
Retail buyers, he said, “want to continue to be relevant as consumer tastes change… We also know of hundreds of incidents where people choose to bring their business to a particular retailer because they carry our burger as opposed to ones that don’t.”
Start small, get rapid feedback
While Beyond Meat has established relationships with all of the leading retailers, a pilot approach worked best for the refrigerated Beyond Burger, he added.
“If we’d have gone to other Safeway regions before they had seen what had happened in Northern California, it would have been much harder to convince them. Then Kroger saw the results, and took us on, and it kept going from there.”
The “same playbook” will be applied with the new Beyond Sausage, which is currently being piloted at the meat counter at Whole Foods’ Pearl Street store in Boulder, CO, he said.
“This pilot approach has been successful strategy… before we figure out all of downstream packaging or even finalize the final formulas, we’re getting rapid feedback about the flavors, and everything else.
“We’re also learning from chefs and feeding what they say back to the business before we bring the products into wider distribution. We’re not afraid to launch before we’re 100% ready for prime time.”
The foodservice opportunity and international expansion
While the Beyond Burger is now on the menu in almost 5,000 restaurants, hotels, college campus dining halls, hospitals and other outlets, from TGI Fridays to Veggie Grill, chefs are also working with the frozen crumbles in products such as tacos and subs, said Goldman, who said the foodservice channel could give the retail channel a run for its money if current trends continued.
“We’re also seeing a tremendous opportunity for international sales. We are already in several overseas market including Hong Kong and Australia on what I’d call a reactive basis after international folks have reached out to us, but we’re also [proactively] working on two markets where we’ll have more formal, direct relationships with customers.
“We’ll probably have some news on that before the end of the second quarter, but we’re in conversations with significant partners in Canada and western Europe.”
We’re plant source agnostic
From an R&D perspective, Beyond Meat is “always working with new plant protein sources with different properties, textures, nutritional values and cost structures, added Goldman, noting that the new Beyond Sausage formulation contains fava bean protein and rice protein as well as the brand’s signature pea protein isolate.
This was in part because of Beyond Meat’s commitment to continuous improvement, but also because other protein sources might make more sense in certain international markets, he said.
“We’re plant source agnostic. Our IP is not tied to peas, or soy, for example. That’s also the case with many companies in this space such as Ripple Foods [of which Goldman is a board member]. As we think about how we scale around the world, there may be other crops that make more sense in other markets.”
Cultured meat: We've got a great headstart
Asked about whether he saw cell cultured meat as a threat to the plant-based ‘meat’ market, he said: “It’s positive to see capital go into cultured meat, but personally I think plant-based is the most promising route to market.
"I’ve just been struck by the rapid and continuous improvement in the products I’ve seen just over the time that I’ve been at Beyond Meat, so I’m pretty confident that by the time the cell cultured people get to market, we’ll be even further along than we are now. So from a competitive mindset, I feel like we’ve got a great head start.”
Our goal has never been to be the top selling veggie burger company
Asked out the competition in the plant-based meat space, he added: “When we think about competition, it’s meat. Our goal has never been to be the top selling veggie burger company, although we obviously want vegans and vegetarians to enjoy our products. But we’ve never aspired to be the leader of 5% of the market, we’re going after the other 95%.”
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 c.25,000 locations (grocery stores and foodservice outlets) from Kroger and Target to TGI Fridays and Veggie Grill.
Products include frozen Beast burgers and sliders (which are being reformulated to more closely mirror the Beyond Burger, and will switch from a frozen cooked patty to a ready-to-cook product); chicken-style strips (made from non-GMO soy and pea protein); crumbles (made with pea protein); and its highest profile product, the pea protein-based Beyond Burger, which is sold chilled alongside conventional meat.
Its latest innovation is Beyond Sausage, made with pea protein isolate, fava bean protein, rice protein, potato starch, coconut oil and beet juice.