Plant-based foods are more than a fad, they are a huge economic trend. Plant-based eaters now account for 8% of the global population. About 70% of the global population is cutting down its meat consumption. The plant-based food market will grow bigger and bigger every year.
As in all markets, there are leaders. Beyond Meat is one of them for the plant-based segment. The founder, Ethan Brown, said in June that the company’s objective is to make plant-based meat cheaper than animal protein.
Our goal is to give you the key to understanding Beyond Meat’s rapid success, to show you the hidden reasons for their success. More than simply providing a case study of a successful plant-based start-up, this analysis can provide your plant-based business with a complete understanding of the market.
How did Beyond Meat become the leader it is today?
Beyond Meat: Identity Card
Who are they?
Beyond Meat was the first company to sell plant-based burgers in grocery stores’ meat sections.
Their products are now sold in 17,000 grocery stores and 12,000 eateries.
What do they sell?
As of 2020, the Beyond Meat company sells:
- Beyond Breakfast Sausage™
- Beyond Burger®
- Cookout Classic™ (10 plant-based burgers)
- Beyond Beef®
- Beyond Sausage®
- Beyond Beef® Crumbles
Plant-based burgers have existed for decades before Beyond Meat. Why did it work for them?
CEO and founder Ethan Brown understood that the target audience was not only vegetarians and vegans, but also flexitarians, or meat-eaters who occasionally want a healthier, high-quality option.
The promises of Beyond Meat’s burgers: they produce 90% less greenhouse gas emissions and require 93% less land, 99% less water, and 46% less energy than a traditional beef patty.
The Reasons Behind Beyond Meat’s Success
The company’s marketing strategy is multiple layers one and has evolved over time, to keep up with the market trend. However, we can define the general key aspects:
- Targeting meat-eaters as well, not only vegans/vegetarians
- Identifying the collective reputation of plant-based products, and changing it
- Assuming its plant-based nature
- Relying on its reputation to appear on restaurant menus and get cheap advertising
What is Beyond Meat’s marketing strategy?
Even though the number of vegans and vegetarians was increasing in 2013 when the company launched its first products, the market for plant-based burgers was small: only 0.5% growth in this category. Moreover, the existing plant-based burgers had a disastrous reputation, they were ironically said to have ‘as much flavor as the box they were in.’ Beyond Meat had to position itself as different from them as possible.
They began targeting not only vegetarians and vegans, but also and mainly meat-eaters; flexitarians. Beyond Meat positioned its products as similar to animal meat as they could. The original packaging did not display vegetables, and the words “meat” and “best” in the products’ names were not chosen randomly.
Beyond Meat founder, Ethan Brown, understood the place of meat in the collective perception very early on. People tend to associate meat with strength, with muscles. Vegans and vegetarians, on the contrary, are often perceived as struggling to get enough protein and iron daily, as unhealthy weaklings. Of course, this is wrong, and our body adapts to whatever we give it. In fact, it has been shown that heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, three of the top ten causes of death, are linked to eating too much meat. To fight this incorrect belief, Ethan Brown launched a campaign featuring famous athletes.
The first campaign, “The Future of Protein”, was launched in 2015. Baseball player David Wright was the first celebrity to sign a contract with the brand. Then, followed by J.J. Redick, Maya Moore, April Ross, Eric Bledsoe, Maggie Vessey, and Tia Blanco.
Nowadays, certain celebrities do more than advertising for the brand, some have become ambassadors for Beyond Meat, such as Byrie Irving, from the Boston Celtics.
2019: A Change In the Branding Strategy With the Arrival of Stun
Stun is a creative branding agency. Beyond Meat has been working with them since February 2019.
We can spot changes in the design since their arrival.
The design softened. Remember the man-ish look of the burger boxes, the focus on the amounts of protein? This all ended with Beyond Meat’s new look.
Now, let’s proudly assume what they are: a plant-based burger, extracting plant proteins to make a tasty and healthy burger. No more comparison with animal meat products: Beyond Meat has nothing more to prove, its products are famous, recognized as good for the palate and for our health. We can perceive more confidence from the company, in line with its media and advertising strategy. It’s an era of growth for the still young start-up.
The Double Distribution Canal: A Major Strength
Beyond Meat had originally been sold in retail shops across the USA, then worldwide.
But they did not stop there.
They entered the restaurant market, and are currently sold to plant-based and mainstream restaurants. The difference with other plant-based patties is that their name is a synonym of quality for their clients. Therefore, restaurant owners tend to put the Beyond Meat logo on the menu when featuring their products. This is very rare: imagine if menus displayed all the product brands they use to cook the dishes you eat. This would be unreadable! Beyond Meat, therefore, accomplished something huge: its name is enough to make people reassured about the quality and taste.
They exploit their established brand engagement to build more brand equity, at a low cost, because they don’t pay a cent for restaurants to make this kind of indirect advertising for them.
Beyond Meat also has big contracts with fast-food chains, as mentioned before, which is a distribution canal bringing lots of cash flow.
The Place of Innovation at Beyond Meat
How do they maintain their leadership?
Beyond Meat constantly reinvests their earnings in further research and development, as well as in marketing, and in scaling up production and distribution.
An Agile Company
Beyond Meat’s success comes partially from the fact that it has been able to evolve alongside or prior to consumer demand. This is a major strength: a high speed-to-market. The company has a culture of accountability among its employees: they are all responsible for driving up performances by making suggestions, pointing out what is not working. To do so, employees need to very clearly understand the company’s priority: is it safety, profits, brand fidelity? The organizational goals have to be settled and explained. Beyond Meat stated that its mission is “to push boundaries and disrupt”. They clearly prioritize innovation.
According to the Partners In Leadership “Happiness at Work” survey, when employees are happier at work, 85% take more initiative. So, when leaders take time and money to connect their employee’s sense of purpose to the firm’s organizational goals, it is the beginning of a virtuous circle, where employees tend to be happier and more productive, enabling better results for the company.
The Challenges the Unicorn Will Have to Face
Remaining The Leader
Beyond Meat might be the pioneer in this segment, but now it faces fierce competition.
Their main rival is the company Impossible Foods. Lots of small companies have also emerged and targeted the same audience, such as Purple Carrot or Sunfed Meats. Nestlé, JBS, and Tyson have all recently launched plant-based burgers.
Let’s have a look at their most serious competitor: Impossible Foods.
The Impossible Foods start-up was founded in 2011 in California by Patrick O. Brown. The company launched the Impossible Burger in 2016.
Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods have many common points. They both rearrange proteins to create their plant-based products. The main difference is that Impossible Foods takes its proteins from soy whereas Beyond Meat extracts it from peas. Impossible Foods sells slightly different products: Impossible Burger, Impossible Pork, Impossible Sausage.
Under (Financial) Pressure
Beyond Meat was one of the most successful IPOs (Initial Public Offerings) of 2019. It began trading at $25/share on the Nasdaq stock exchange and ended the day at $65.75. Its stock value gained 163% on the day of its stock introduction. This is one of the biggest first-day pop-ups in recent history.
However, some investors have growing concerns about the company’s ability to maintain these results.
The redistribution of cash flow to its investors is a challenge. For example, Tyson Food, one of the biggest and earliest investors in Beyond Meat, which had a 5% stake in 2016 exited in 2019. Investors are beginning to worry whether or not Beyond Meat will be able to sustain the $4 billion valuation in stock it currently has.
Do you have a plant-based business?
We hope this article helped you understand how crucial a good marketing strategy is for a company’s success. There are several lessons to be learned from Beyond Meat’s story.
First of all, think of the big picture when it comes to segmentation: who will really buy your products? Are they only for vegans? Could they suit flexitarians, meat-eaters? If yes (which is the most common case), you can sell them to way more people and have an even greater impact.
Beyond Meat’s case also shows that a marketing strategy is not fixed: it has to evolve along with the company’s positioning. Beyond Meat went from very dark and “meat-like” packagings to a fresher and smoother look. Your brand, too, needs the liberty to change.
Finally, innovation is another key element of success for Beyond Meat: if they are the leaders, let’s not forget that it is also because their products are great, packed with plant-based proteins. If you want to stay up-to-date on the latest news in the plant-based market, to learn about the most recent innovations as they come out, do not hesitate to follow us.