It’s one thing to express an idea among like company. It’s another to implement the same in the real world. As you know, Beyond Meat has been in the “meat alternative” sections of the nation’s supermarkets. We are having a great ride in this hard-to-find sliver of an aisle: consumers are believers (like me) and our products’ sins—imperfections in taste, appearance—are forgiven. It’s important but not transformative.
Recently, reflecting the taste and quality of our new release the Beyond Burger as well as leadership at Whole Foods (thanks, Tom Rich), we finally made it to the biggest of all stages for protein: the meat case. 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. On my own beliefs, I want to be clear. I believe that plant-based meats have human health (World Health Organization) and climate benefits(Goodland & Anhang) benefits. These positives issues motivate me, strongly. But I also believe in what is the third rail in polite company: animals value their lives as much as we do ours, and here we have unmet obligations. It would be disingenuous of me to downplay this belief as I entered this new relationship.
This morning I left my home in the dark to make an early flight; I looked into my daughter’s room and lying at the foot of her bed was our new family member, the pot-bellied pig Wilbur (named so by my children, against my vigorous and useless objection). He looked full and on the verge of returning to sleep, having demolished Sunday’s leftover blueberry pancake batter as I made coffee. Wilbur is fun, but he is also there as a teacher, someone who can help my children later understand what Albert Schweitzer meant when he wrote Reverence for Life.
Do I think Tyson and its executives are the enemy because they have a radically different view of our relationship to animals? I don’t. I realize that this may disappoint many people. In fact, I’ve found the Tyson executives with whom I’ve interacted to be principled and constructive people. It is true, their beliefs don’t comport with mine on animals. Yet neither do those of my broader family, the vast majority of my friends, colleagues, neighbors, and many others I greatly respect, all of whom eat animal-based meat. The good news is that Tyson and I can–and do—agree on many other things including: the need for sustainable protein for a growing global population; that innovation can fuel growth and profit; and that business best serves the consumer by offering choice.
What can you expect from Beyond Meat going forward? More of the same relentless pursuit of meat. With Tyson’s investment, we are expanding the Manhattan Beach Project, our already formidable research and development program to understand animal meat better than anyone else so we can build it from plants. We will remain committed to non-GMO inputs and will continue to strive for understandable ingredients, always plant-based. Lastly, we won’t let a product that is “good enough” distract from what we know to be possible: building meat from plants.
With the Beyond Burger, I hope you’ve seen that we are gaining more understanding, getting better, and closing in—though we have many miles before us—on that perfect, indistinguishable, build. When we arrive there, I believe we can begin to retire the meat/no meat debate. How many of us staunchly defend the landline against the iPhone, or demonize the landline in favor of the iPhone? Both are phones, just made differently, and the consumer decides.