Why It's Disruptive
Ethan Brown, the founder of Beyond Meat, is maniacally focused on getting protein out of plants--and into a form that will be indistinguishable from meat. To him, a plant-based "meat" is the key to better feeding the world's population and dramatically reducing greenhouse gas emissions, a large percentage of which are attributed to livestock. Brown won't say how much money he's raised to do this (investors include Bill Gates, General Mills, and Tyson Foods), but he's employing 25 food scientists, and more than 75 other staffers, to figure it out. "This is a global problem, and it requires massive resources," says Brown.
Beyond Meat already makes substitutes for ground beef and chicken fingers sold in 11,000 stores, including Target, Safeway, and Kroger. But last summer, it introduced its Beyond Burger--the company's plant-based answer to hamburgers--to rave reviews. Brown insists on selling the Beyond Burger in only the meat case of supermarkets, turning down chains that insist the Beyond Burger must be in the "meat alternatives" section. The Beyond Burger is in about 675 Whole Foods and Safeway locations, and 30 locations of a fast-food restaurant. "We're not going to be selling in the meat case for long," says Brown. "It's going to be the protein case."
The massive resources required include not only brainpower, but also a supply chain. "We're trying to build a feedstock portfolio, and the supply chain is amazingly immature," says Brown, which means, among other things, that Beyond Burgers run $5.99 for two four-ounce patties, more expensive than ground beef. The processes for getting protein out of plants are mostly designed to create animal feed. Brown would like to grow legumes for Beyond Meat in the same region that the products will eventually be sold in, but right now, he's getting supplies from Canada and France. --Kimberly Weisul
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the number of grocers and fast-food restaurants that carry Beyond Meat burgers. The story has been updated.