Beyond Meat Inc. is turning to academia to show that its plant-based products can be part of consumers’ pursuit of a healthier diet, establishing the Plant-Based Diet Initiative Fund with Stanford University.
Beyond Meat has partnered with the Stanford University School of Medicine for the five-year effort that Chief Executive Ethan Brown says will both inform that company’s innovation efforts as well as the public.
The partnership will include studies on plant-based diets, find new plant proteins that can be used in product, and globally accessible data on the impact of plant-based proteins.
On the one hand, more people are turning to plant-based foods and meatless meals to reach their health goals.
On the other, there are some critics who say that Beyond Meat
and other plant-based foods currently on the market are highly processed options that fall short of consumer wellness efforts.
“[I]n marketing, we have a story to tell,” Brown said during the company’s late Thursday earnings call. “There’s still a lot of noise out there about the ingredients, things like that, so we want to get out there and be very, very focused on making sure the consumer understands that the products are healthy and are a way to continue to advance some of their own health goals.”
The “noise” that Brown refers to has come not only from individuals with strong opinions, but also from competitors in the increasingly crowded plant-based and meatless food category.
In 2020, for example, Lightlife, a company that sells plant-based burgers, sausage, chicken and more, published an open letter to Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods admonishing the companies about what goes into their products.
“Enough with the hyper-processed ingredients, GMOs, unnecessary additives and fillers and fake blood,” the letter said.
Earlier in the year, Lightlife “reinvented” its line of products with “simpler ingredients” like brown rice and beet powder.
Beyond Meat introduced its latest iteration of the Beyond Burger the week of May 3, which Brown said in a statement uses “non-GMO plant-based ingredients.”
In addition to offering a healthy alternative, Beyond Meat and its competitors continue to promise a tasty way to eat well.
“Despite the scientific evidence in favor of consuming less processed foods, American diets continue to depart sharply from these recommendations,” wrote Bernstein analysts in a report published in June 2020 about nutrition and health with relation to restaurant choice.
The report found that taste was the most important factor when choosing a restaurant. The same has been said of plant-based foods.
Beyond Meat is not only competing with Impossible Foods, Lightlife and other new players, but also a host of products from large food companies with deep pockets and a history of food marketing prowess.
And Kellogg Co.’s
Incogmeato brand has launched Chik’n Tenders.
As the number companies and products in this category grows, so too does the consumer interest in “meat-restrictive” flexitarian diets, wrote Technomic, a data and analytics provider for the food-service industry.
“Diets constantly evolve, and consumers are increasingly adhering to diets that limit animal products in some way,” the report said. “The flexitarian diet has increased the most since 2018 and has the highest adherence, likely because it’s the most accommodating and customizable.”
The category is also benefiting from all of the information that consumers can gather through social media and other channels, according to experts MarketWatch spoke with.
“Consumers’ awareness and understanding about these products continues to increase,” said David Garfield, global lead of the consumer products practice at AlixPartners.
“While the number of upstarts or challenger brands continues to grow, at the same time traditional food companies have become bigger and better innovators and investors in this market space.”
And the category is getting a boost from all of the options that flexitarians can choose from, whether in dairy, produce or organic items.
“The trend is not the rise in any absolute categories but people eating what they perceive to be better-for-you foods,” said Garfield.
UBS forecasts that plant-based protein sales will reach $51 billion by 2025.
“We estimate that plant-based meat alternatives still account for just less than 1% of combined meat and meat alternative volumes, albeit up from 0.4% in 2018,” the April 2021 report said.
Beyond Meat shares tumbled 7% in Friday trading after reporting a first-quarter loss. Shares are down 11.6% for the year to date.
The S&P 500 index
is up 12.7% for the period.
As the world continues to recover from the pandemic and restaurant dining picks up, Brown spoke confidently about what lies ahead for Beyond Meat.
“Retail net revenues led our growth, increasing 45% year-over-year. And although food service net revenues were down 34% versus the prior-year period, the sector appears to be showing directional early signs of recovery from COVID-19,” he said.