It looks like meat, tastes like meat, and even feels like meat...but it’s made entirely of plants. Sounds too good to be true, right? Nope, it’s just Beyond Meat.
When vegan meat alternatives first started to appear on the market, many people saw them as a fad. After all, nothing could replace a real burger, could it?
However, by now it’s clear that plant-based meat alternatives are here to stay — and they’re gaining traction every year.
While there are numerous brands that have popped up over the years who’ve thrown their metaphorical hats into the meat alternatives ring, Beyond Meat is still one of the most successful and well-known.
This article will take a deep dive into Beyond Meat’s journey to success and provide some tips other brands can use to fuel their own growth stories.
Beyond Meat’s Journey to Success
Source: Business Insider
Beyond Meat was originally founded in 2009 by Ethan Brown, who worked with two University of Missouri professors, Fu-hung Hsieh and Harold Huff, to develop meatless protein.
The professors had been working on perfecting their formula for years, and the first Beyond Meat product launched in 2012 was their “Chicken-Free Strips”. Made from "soy powder, gluten-free flour, carrot fiber and other ingredients", they used a “food extrusion” machine to create a “chicken-like texture”.
Though their first product received positive reviews from some celebrities and PETA named Beyond Meat their 2013 “Company of the Year”, journalists who actually tasted the chicken reported that the "likeness to real chicken was tolerable, at best".
And while their “Chicken-Free Strips” were sold at big-name stores like Whole Foods all across the US, they were later discontinued in 2019.
However, the lack of fervor for their first product did nothing to stop Beyond Meat from trudging forward. In 2014 they developed their first simulated beef product and expanded their presence from 1,500 to 6,000 stores in the US.
By 2015, even Walmart was selling Beyond Meat’s plant-based products! Clearly, vegan meat alternatives were no longer a “fad”. Between 2013-2016, Beyond Meat was funded by the likes of Tyson Foods, Bill Gates, and the Humane Society — and by 2018, they’d raised $72 million in venture financing.
In order to increase its manufacturing capacity, in June 2018, Beyond Meat opened a second production facility in Columbia, Missouri and a third in El Segundo, California.
This year also saw Beyond Meat break into the international market — partnering with the likes of Tesco in the UK to A&W in Canada). In 2020, they even signed a deal to open another production facility in Shanghai!
However, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Beyond Meat — in March 2019, Don Lee Farms filed a civil suit against its former business partner. Why? Well, when Beyond Meat chose to switch suppliers, they allegedly shared details of Don Lee’s manufacturing process — which Don Lee saw as a breach of contract.
Furthermore, Don Lee alleged “significant concerns” about food safety protocols concerning the raw materials that Beyond Meat sent.
However, Beyond Meat staunchly defended itself and its food safety protocols, turning the tables on Don Lee and saying: “We simply couldn’t get Don Lee Farms to meet our standards.” Even in 2021, the dispute is still going on, though both sides seem to have claimed victory.
Still, disputes aside, Beyond Meat has been doing very well these past few years. In 2019, they partnered up with Dunkin’ Donuts to supply their Meatless Sausage for the breakfast chain’s sandwiches nationwide.
And by 2020, Beyond Meat had launched an e-commerce site that served as a direct-to-consumers portal, allowing customers to purchase their products individually. This year also saw Beyond Meat join forces with Mcdonald’s to develop their McPlant option.
Finally, in 2021, Beyond Meat began supplying Taco Bellwith plant-based meat products and partnered with PepsiCo to develop and market plant-based drinks and snacks.
From the Beyond Burger to Beyond Sausage, and their latest — Beyond Meatballs — this brand is really on a roll. But what has allowed them to be so successful despite their setbacks?
What Can You Learn From Beyond Meat?
Source: Adams Fairacre Farms
As we touched on earlier, not everything was easy for Beyond Meat — they made their fair share of mistakes along the way. But how they handled it is what makes them a successful brand.
So, what can you learn from Beyond Meat?
1. Never Stop Innovating
When Beyond Meat was met with the failure of their “Chicken-Free Strips” — their first real product — they didn’t fold. Instead, they persevered. And this failure didn’t break them for a few reasons — most importantly, because they already had new products in the works.
Additionally, when their “Chicken-Free Strips” were finally taken off the market in 2019, they did so quietly. Instead of drawing attention to a product that consumers didn’t love, they simply discontinued it and slowly fazed it out of supermarkets.
What can you learn from this? In order to get ahead of the competition, never stop innovating. It doesn’t matter what industry your brand is in — there’s always a chance consumers won’t take to your product or service.
And if this happens, you need to have others you can roll out. Moral of the story? If you’re always innovating and looking towards the future, you’ll rarely be caught off guard.
2. Be Willing To Pivot
When the “Chicken-Free Strips” failed, it wasn’t only about the taste — something was just “off”.
But instead of doubling down and spending millions of dollars more to try and fix a product receiving a lukewarm response at best — Beyond Meat chose to pivot.
By focusing on their fresh foods, like their Beyond Burger patties — which “many agreed pulled off the ‘meatless meat’ trick more convincingly” — they were able to put their time and effort into a product that was going to make them more successful in the long run.
What can you learn from this? It’s difficult to imagine the product or service that got your brand on the map might not be the one that helps you achieve further growth. Letting go of your vision and plans is hard, but if it’s the right thing to do, you have to be willing to pivot.
Don’t become so attached to a product that you aren’t willing to see when it no longer serves you.
3. Pay Attention to the Details
A vegan burger that “bleeds”. It sounds crazy, we know — but it’s one of the reasons Beyond Burgers have been so widely successful: they emulate real meat right down to the irresistible juiciness.
While this may seem like a minor detail — using beetroot juice to mimic blood — it helped the Beyond Burger get one step close to winning over non-vegans. How? While vegans and vegetarians are less picky when it comes to whether or not meat substitutes really taste and feel like meat, regular meat-eaters are much more tricky to convince.
By paying attention to all the details of a real burger — the taste, texture, smell, feel, and consistency — Beyond Meat has been able to break into a target audience that had yet to be cracked: “mainstream consumers interested in healthier forms of meat”.
What can you learn from this? Don’t be afraid to really study the competition and pay attention to all the little details that have made them successful. But keep in mind — to do this, you’ll need data on how consumers are responding to your competitors.
And while there are a few ways to do this, brand tracking is your best bet, as it allows you to track your chosen brand KPIs for the target audiences that matter.
Plant-based meat alternatives are on the rise — and not just with vegans. More and more meat-eaters and “flexitarians” are looking to plant-based products to offset their carbon footprints and help them live a more sustainable lifestyle.
By constantly innovating, pivoting when necessary, and having a real eye for detail, in just under 10 years, Beyond Meat has become one of the biggest names in a previously unheard-of industry.
And if you’re looking to follow in this impressive brand’s footsteps, keep our above tips in mind and consider adding brand tracking software to your lineup — because, without insight into how consumers feel about your brand, you won’t know where to grow next.