Beyond Meat CEO Ethan Brown wants to completely rearrange the protein scene--without rocking the cultural boat. Here's his strategy.
The average American eats 270 pounds of meat a year.
"We have something called OCD: obsessive chicken disorder," Ethan Brown, the fonder and CEO of Beyond Meat, told the audience at the Wired Business Conference Tuesday.
While Beyond Meat's general mission--replacing animal protein with plant protein and creating tasty meat-like products--may not seem especially groundbreaking, Brown doesn't adhere to the mindset of turning away from the experience of eating meat. Rather, he is working within what he calls "the cultural norm around meat consumption."
"I don't think people crave a plain piece of chicken--they crave chicken in their favorite dishes," Brown explained. "So we've taken that flavor medium and focused on the texture, not the flavor itself."
Brown sees meat consumption in the U.S. as a cultural force too tremendous to ignore. In other words, squishy tofu just won't cut it as a healtful and sustainable substitute. He argues that working within the meat-loving cultural framework makes business sense for his line of products, which is sold in Whole Foods and other markets around the country. After all, if more customers will eat your product, presumably more will buy it.
Beyond Meat's technical challenge here is trying to replicate the fibrous structure of meat. To do this, it extracts proteins directly from plants and realigns them in an attempt to mimic the animal proteins that give meat its structure--and texture. The focus is on creating a virtually indistinguishable product places the focus on eating protein.
"It shouldn't really matter if your chicken McNugget comes from formed and processed chicken or directly from plants," he said.
Brown says the ultimate aim is to offer consumers an entire suite of plant-based protein. In other words, the grocery store may someday have a protein section in place of the meat counter.
"Fifty years from now, my hope is that beef and chicken will no longer have a relationship to the animal they came from," he said. "It will be based on plant-based inputs."
JULIE STRICKLAND covers start-ups, small businesses, and entrepreneurial endeavors of all kinds for Inc. Her work has been published in Brooklyn Based and City Limits in New York, the Free Times in Columbia, SC, Real Travel Magazine in London, and Daegu Pockets in South Korea. She lives in New York City. @Jules5168