Here'sHere's a big idea that comes with a unique set of problems: replacing meat in the food supply with something that is more sustainable and climate-friendly, yet looks and tastes like the real deal. But that's what Beyond Meat does — it takes plant protein and turns it into convincing substitutes for chicken, beef, and pork. And on today's episode, I'm talking with founder and CEO Ethan Brown about how he's tackling this.
I last interviewed Ethan on the Vergecast, before the company IPO'd in 2019 — it's been quite a ride since then, as the pandemic sharply impacted the stock, restaurants closed, and the entire food world generally turned upside down. But the company has come out of that with a rising stock price, some big deals to supply quick-service restaurants like Pizza Hut and Dunkin, and a growing business selling to consumers in grocery stores.
I talked to Ethan about how Beyond Meat is structured, how he thinks about growing, and how the pandemic has changed the trajectory of the company. One thing that jumped out to me: Ethan's really focused on capturing market share quickly — he's one of the few CEOs I've ever talked to who admitted to making decisions based on how fast they would increase market share. It was refreshing, honestly.
We also talk about growing competition in the plant-based meat market — you'll hear me call Ethan out for taking two subtle shots at Impossible Foods. Specifically, Ethan said Beyond Meat doesn't use GMO ingredients and says there was some "controversy" around genetically produced heme-iron, which is a key ingredient in Impossible's product. We went back and double checked with Verge science reporters Justine Calma and Nicole Wetsman, who said that use of heme-iron and other GMOs aren't big red flags. But you'll hear Ethan talk about it, and talk about competing with Impossible, so it's important to have that context in mind.