Fake meat is mostly a fake-out for now

veggie burger

Beyond Meat, Inc., founded in 2009, has had almost 15 years to build a product line-up that is — as its name claims — beyond meat and, by some business metrics, it has.

After all, the company, whose market capitalization was pegged at $1.3 billion when it went public in 2018, recently reported April-to-June 2023 sales of $102 million.

To a confirmed carnivore, that sounds like a lot of non-meat meat. To the always ravenous Wall Street, however, the number is undercooked: Compared to a year ago, net revenue is off 31% and U.S. sales are down 40%.

Even worse, according to a comprehensive look at alternative meat companies published Aug. 9 in Plant Based News, “Beyond also backpedaled on its previous goal of achieving positive cash flow … saying this is now ‘unlikely’ to happen in 2023.”

That bad news sliced another 20% off Beyond Meat’s stock price the next day and again raised the broader question of whether plant-based meat is just another food fad in the ever-changing, ever-challenging, ever-greener global food market.

Impossible Foods

Beyond’s biggest competitor, Impossible Foods, Inc., doesn’t seem to have a clear answer either. Like many of his veggie meat executives, Impossible’s boss, Pat Brown, predicted in 2020 that “his company would ‘take a double-digit portion of the beef market’ by 2024 before sending it into a ‘death spiral,’” noted Bloomberg last January.

After that boast, Brown lobbed an even bigger brick at the sausage and bacon crowd: “Next, he would target ‘the pork industry and the chicken industry and say, “You’re next!” and they’ll go bankrupt even faster.’”

Beef didn’t enter a death spiral and Brown was, in fact, next; he stepped down as the company’s “chief visionary officer” over a year ago. Since then, Impossible has gained a toehold in the veggie chicken nuggets niche. Still, in early 2023, investors saw their shares in the private company “trading at around $12,” or “about half the price during its last fundraising round,” again reports Bloomberg.

Fake meat’s fizzle

Fake meat isn’t the only “new” food struggling to land into the American grocery cart. According to a Sept. 22 report, “Just Eat, Inc., a closely held maker of cultivated chicken and plant-based eggs, has dismissed roughly 40 employees, less than a month after raising $16 million…”

Perhaps the most remarkable part of that brief report is the apparent disconnect it highlights: Despite continued evidence that the majority of Americans have a very limited appetite for non-meat meat and non-egg eggs, investors continue to throw venture capital at both half-cooked ideas.

That faith and those dollars are misplaced. “Supermarket sales of refrigerated plant-based meat plummeted 14% by volume for the 52 weeks ended Dec. 4” while “(o)rders of plant-based burgers at restaurants and other food-service outlets for the 12 months ended in November were down 9% from three years earlier…” said Bloomberg earlier this year.

Fake meat’s fizzle, believe some of its execs, is due largely to real meat’s campaign that attacked the fakers’ manufacturing “process (as) somehow unhealthy or that our products are full of chemicals … (and that) is not true …”

That could be part of it but the more likely explanation is simpler: The vast majority of American eaters just don’t want fake meat regardless of benefits like a healthier diet and a healthier planet. So far, anyway.

Besides, food flops litter American supermarket aisles. Remember “new Coke” and Olestra-laden potato chips? Coca-Cola and Lay’s certainly do because both quickly belly-flopped spectacularly in the marketplace.

There are other reasons but the key one remains: New idea or old, if food dollars don’t vote for it, there’s little that any company — be it wealthy and global like Coca-Cola or new and niche like Impossible Foods — can do to turn it into a middle-of-the-plate dinner winner.

As such, real red meat, real poultry, real eggs or even real mayonnaise — another target of food transformers — are not going away, let alone bankrupt, anytime in the foreseeable future. But neither is the Veggie Gang; their time may yet come.

Until then, want to share their bacon?


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Alan Guebert was raised on an 800-acre, 100-cow southern Illinois dairy farm. After graduation from the University of Illinois in 1980, he served as a writer and editor at Professional Farmers of America, Successful Farming magazine and Farm Journal magazine. His syndicated agricultural column, The Farm and Food File, began in June, 1993, and now appears weekly in more than 70 publications throughout the U.S. and Canada. He and spouse Catherine, a social worker, have two adult children. farmandfoodfile.com



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