Changing Food Culture
So how does it feel? Oh, it’s fun. Incredible. Wow, what a rush. Good. Excellent. It’s a little there’s a lot of people here, but that’s okay. We’re gonna have some fun to share it. So what I thought we would start with is, is kind of your story from a kind of personal point of view. And how does this father and something work in the world of business and how have you got to hear?
[00:00:33] Sure. So I started a company called Honesty out of our house. Twenty three years ago. It’s an organic bottled tea. And it was really based on this idea not just of a less sweet drink, which could help people’s health, but also the first organic bottled tea, the first Fairtrade bottled tea and ways to have helped consumers connect their personal decisions to the impact they have when they make those decisions. And so while I’m building that company and trying to be about conscious food, Jonah was growing up and around the time he was about age eight, he started asking some tough questions. One of them came because we took him to an animal sanctuary called Poplar Springs Animal Sanctuary in Maryland. And we had this wonderful visit. And in particular, I’ll remember there was this chicken whose name was George. And he was such a character. He was so bossy. He would tell us where to go. He would follow us around. He really made his presence known. And the night after that visit, we went home and we had a chicken dinner. And Jonah said, So what’s the difference between this chicken on the plate and George? And they really couldn’t give a good answer. And I realized that, you know, he was asking some tough questions. And I, I, I wanted to be a model of being able to answer these kind of questions. And so by the time Jonah was 13, he had convinced our entire family to become vegetarian.
[00:02:01] And we were happy with that decision from an ethical perspective. But we were never quite satisfied from a culinary perspective. And by that I mean that the veggie burgers just weren’t satisfying. And all of our boys are athletes. So they all needed, you know, to have a stay well nourished. And we just weren’t finding the right solutions. So in 2012, my wife read an article about this company getting started out in California called Beyond Meat. It was just really getting going. But she said, boy, this company has the right vision of trying to create meat from plants, perfectly replicating the taste and texture of meat using plants. And I said, wow, if that’s exceeded, that would be a great thing. And so I sent an email to info beyond meat dot com. And I said, if there’s any way I can help. I’d love to help. And they needed some help. We got involved are really our whole family got involved. But I became on the board and an adviser and then chair of the board, and that company has grown. And the one thing I’ll say before I turn it over to Jonah is that often when you see a father and son on the stage together, it’s usually the son that’s following in their father’s footsteps. But I really feel like I’m the father following in the son’s footsteps because him, he and his vision have been the inspiration for my involvement in this whole movement. And now, you know, we’re building this new restaurant, which he’s really the creative energy behind. And it’s just been so fun.
[00:03:29] Well, thank you. Amazing. Very flattering introduction.
[00:03:35] Yeah, that that sums it up pretty well. It was a pretty interesting childhood that I had. I’m incredibly grateful to my parents for kind of recognizing that I was going through a bit of a trauma when I realized that, you know, you had to raise and slaughter animals in order to eat meat. This was something that I found incredibly disturbing. And I it was a challenge for me to understand the cognitive dissonance that I saw between how we all love animals and we all love the environment. Yet our actions, especially when it came to our meals, didn’t match up at all with that. And so this pushed me to self radicalize. As as I say what basically I was watching YouTube videos and studying the terrors of industrial animal agriculture. And once you start to learn about that at an early age. And this also happened to be the same age that I learned about global warming. I learned about the Holocaust. For a 10 year old, that’s a lot. It’s a whole lot of sensory input and horrible things to realize.
[00:04:45] So it pushed me to think about how do my actions and values align and what can I do to be more in tune, live more in harmony with my beliefs. And that manifested in me every morning, waking up and standing on the couch and more or less doing a fire and brimstone speech, guilt tripping my family for how horrible they were. And I don’t I don’t recommend that technique for anyone who’s trying to convince anyone to to adopt a plant based lifestyle. But in my particular case, persistence paid off. And I was able to convince them all. And that also was the impetus to start to study food systems and understand what I really believed to be the most. Intense and personal relationship that we share with the environment and mother. Feeding ourselves and finding ways to create sustenance that are also not compromising the ecosystem services we all depend upon to survive became a question that I was very curious about. And I encourage everyone to also ask questions. And if you don’t like the answers, that may be a good thing. So you can change your behavior. And, you know, I also had parents that supported me throughout that that antiauthoritarian questioning rebellious stage and pushed me to find those answers and testing.
[00:06:17] That’s such a lovely story. Thank you. And an observation, I think, is with this climate crisis that we have now on planet Earth. The generational shift. You guys are the leaders of the future. And we need the young people to kind of step up and we’ll provide a little bit of wisdom if we can. If we got any left. But thank you for that. And I want to talk about the businesses. So would you quickly set face? Give me. Give us a quick overview about what beyond me does how is how it’s evolved.
[00:06:44] So beyond me, it really started with a key question, which is what happens if we change the way we think about meat? So if I ask the audience, what do people think meat is? Most people would say meat is protein from an animal. But there’s a very different way to answer that, which is meat is really just an assembly of amino acids that form the protein lipids that form the fat 70 percent water. And then some trace minerals and carbohydrates. All of those components come from the plant kingdom. In fact, by definition, they have to because all the animal does is eat plants and use its digestive and skeletal system to convert plants into what we harvest is meat. So then the question is, well, what if you leave the animal out of the equation? What if you extract the same plants and can take out the protein, take out the fats, use pressure and heat and cooling and end up with a product that resembles the taste, the texture, the nutritious, the good, nutritious properties of meat? Yeah. And actually, what we found is you can create a product that is very much like meat. And for those who of you haven’t tasted, we are serving the beyond burger down in the back corner. In conjunction with Hank Burger and Plant Burger. And the other good news that we found is not only can we create a product that tastes very much like meat, but people are very excited to eat it. And so I’ve been part of a lot of different food companies, but I’ve never seen a company grow as quickly and as beyond meat has. And not just because the product is good, though it is. It’s because we’ve become the face of a movement. As you said, of people who really want to. What would you say? Eat the change, who want to take their own decisions and make them consistent with the beliefs they have set.
[00:08:32] So it’s a really good point that you make. So I was going to ask you this question as you because you were you are incredibly successful in honesty, was sold at the Coca-Cola Company, but that was a part of a category. I guess what you’re creating now is a new category. And just tell us a little bit of how many countries are you in? How’s it going? We’re not talking about the stock market. We’re just talking about the consumers on this one for sure.
[00:08:52] Yeah. So it’s, as I said, grown incredibly quickly. We’re now in over 50 countries. We are in tens of thousands of stores really in the United States. All the major grocery stores we are doing were either in or doing tests with Subway, McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Dunkin, Carl’s junior, really most of the major chains around the world. And because they get it, this is really what consumers want. And the other key thing I think is important to share, one reason we’ve been growing so quickly is because our products are carried in the meat section of the grocery store. And that was a key insight was if we want to make ourselves relevant to the majority of people, which, you know, only five percent of the population is vegetarian or vegan. So we never want to become the best selling veggie burger. We want to be in the meat section. And and when we do that, we can actually redefine the meat section. So it’s no longer hamburger, chicken, breast, turkey, breast, it’s cow protein, chicken protein and plant protein, all part of the same continuum. And what’s so exciting about that is we’ve seen when when we’re in the meat section, over 90 percent of the people who buy our product also have meat in their shopping cart.
[00:10:08] And that just means we’re reaching a very different consumer than the typical veggie, an annual shifting behavior, which is what we’re right with that it’s all about, which is amazing. So just some there’s a little bit of a question about the kind of the process nature of your burgers, I guess. Could you could you just address that so we get that one out on the table?
[00:10:26] Happy to do that. The first question is really? Well, what what what is two processes? Right. So it’s important for everyone to just understand the process involved in raising and slaughtering animals. It’s not that pretty. But, you know, we don’t try to give a guilt trip on that. But there’s a process associated with that which has some significant, you know, altering impact in terms of what we do. As I said, we take the plants. In fact, it’s worth noting, especially in this audience, that our main ingredient is peas. And our main supplier for the peas is the company, Roquette, which is based in France. So very much feel like eating at home turf. And then we take the piece, we take out the protein piece, 70 percent starch and 30 percent protein. We take out the protein. We then run that protein through a machine called an extruder. It’s the same piece of equipment that’s used to make pasta and then that gives it a texture. And we use that texture. We add in beets and other natural colors and we add in coconut oil and canola oil to add the fat. And then we form that into a burger Patty. So that’s the process from my point of view. And it’s clean. There’s no GMO, there’s no artificial ingredients. Everything is plant based. It’s also worth noting that when we launched in the United States, our first retail partner was Whole Foods. And we think that was an important choice because they have the highest standard in terms of quality and health.
[00:11:52] Big fan of Whole Foods in spite of their current ownership. So, like now, Jonah, let’s talk a bit about because you’re at the other end of that. You’re right at the beginning of your journey with Plant Burger. Tell us tell us about it. What is it doing? Where are you? What are your plans?
[00:12:07] Yeah. So this is a really exciting moment for us as a business. It’s a very young business. If you’ll follow me on the plant metaphor. It’s a seed of a business. And just to explain a little bit about the narrative of how it all got started. So there’s an incredible chef, Chef Spike Mendelsohn, who’s in the audience right here.
[00:12:31] And he had met my father and tried beyond meat for the first time a year and a half ago and was you know, his whole career has been based in animal products and cooking with classically trained with with chefs in the north of France. And so he was interested in launching a burger joint that had all of the deliciousness, all of the juiciness and indulgence of the classic American comfort foods. The burger shakes and fries that we all know and love that just so happened to be plant based. And it’s a very subliminal approach that we’ve taken when we when we’re marketing this, we don’t emphasize that it’s vegan. We’re trying to market towards the same. Ninety five percent of consumers that love and crave meat for the way it tastes, but are maybe aware of the environmental and health repercussions. And at the time I was in Israel, I was working for a composable packaging company called pOther Phenomenal Group, and I wasn’t quite satisfied with my my work and life ratio. It was ten to twelve hours in front of a computer. And I was I was looking to get back involved in the food system that I had come to know and love.
[00:13:40] And it was then that I started to speak with Spike and with the rest of the founding team about the possibility of actually bringing this into reality from ideation into realization. And we discussed the branding, and it was just such a inspiring, colorful, vibrant idea that we really believed had a huge impact, potential to reach all of the Americans who who who I just described. In America, we consume 50 billion hamburgers and 20 billion hot dogs every year. And when we consider the environmental cost of that, the methane, the water, the land that goes into creating that, it’s unbelievable. And so we knew that there was so much to be done in that space. And what we what we’ve created and I believe what our designers have done such a great job capturing is this amazing brand and the logo. And the mission is really all about helping people transition towards a more plant based diet to create a more just and plentiful food system and a healthy and habitable planet for future generations.
[00:14:51] Explain the logo and the name. So, yeah. So you may have heard it in my pitch just now.
[00:14:56] The words Plant Planet and plenty. And that’s why we’ve left out the A.. So it’s not just plant burger but rather PLN t burger and it’s supposed to evoke all of those. And that’s part of the solution.
[00:15:10] The the logo itself is at the same time a burger. It’s a planet and it can be ying yang. It can be a wave. That can be a landscape. It can be a new sunrise, ushering in a new era of compassionate and informed consumption.
[00:15:30] Fantastic. I love it. A bit of not good marketing that. But it doesn’t. It really nice. It’s fantastic. We learned something from that. So. So my next question is China. So it’s kind of in two parts. But how was the customer response been?
[00:15:45] And what’s the plan to get it? Why don’t you replace McDonald’s with bumbag? You know, how are we going to see it rollout out globally? How’s this. Will give us this, honey. Yeah. Tell me tell me how your hio plans are going from the kind of stocks up into scaling this business.
[00:15:59] Sure. Yeah. So we launched the first plant burger restaurant, which is a tiny footprint where 110 square foot burger kiosk located inside of a Whole Foods. And we launched in mid-September. And since then, the response has been phenomenal. We’re really just incredibly grateful for the success that we’ve seen so far. And we know that there’s a lot more to do. But one thing I’ll say about our our consumer, our average customer that comes over for a burger is just someone who’s looking for a burger. And our philosophy is a burger, a good burgers, a good burger, really, no matter where it comes from. And from day one, that was our mission is just to serve people, those those same products in a way that isn’t attacking them for their choices, but rather saying this is better. This is actually going to make you feel better after you’ve eaten burger. If anyone in the audience has already had that burger, you may notice that instead of the sluggish, sleepy feeling that you have after you’ve eaten animal flesh burger, you’re actually energized more. You’re clean, you’re ready to go off and do activities or have a meeting. And so people’s. I think I have been, for me, very gratifying and rewarding.
[00:17:11] Share the pride. What’s the price of the burger?
[00:17:13] Yeah, so we we did our best to make these products as price competitive as possible with the alternate animal based burger. Prices range from six dollars to nine dollars. Plastic. Yeah. And again, what our what our mission is and our phrase eat the change is on the back of my shirt speaks to that is to democratize plant based foods and to democratize a healthy, balanced diet for everyone. For a very long time, this has been limited to the upper echelons of society. And I let my father speak more about that.
[00:17:47] Another point is that we located the restaurant in the area called Silver Spring, which is a very diverse, extremely diverse community. I don’t know, in the U.S., we are one of the ways to measure economic diversity is by how much cash is paid instead of credit cards. And it’s over 20 percent. So that’s much higher. So what’s exciting for us that means is this isn’t something we’re bringing to just the economic elite. We’re really making we have this goal universally to democratize plant protein. And so to be able to see that it beyond meat and plant workers is very exciting.
[00:18:19] Fantastic. So we’ve got another seven minutes. So I want to just zoom out a little bit and get your view more broadly on this changing food culture. So where are the beginning of a new decade, perhaps the decade of disruption it suddenly needs to be? We have to. Otherwise, we’re not going to be sitting here in 10 years enjoying this. So so how how’s the pace of change? Where’s the optimism? Where’s the pessimism? How do you how are you guys seeing that?
[00:18:45] One of the favorite phrases I learned is things happen really slowly until they happen really quickly. And this is happening really quickly. I mean, 18 months ago, this wasn’t a category. And now you’re seeing it in every major retailer. You’re seeing it expand to really all of the major restaurant chains. So one of the things we looked at is beyond me. To understand and assess the opportunity is what happened in the dairy category about 20 years ago. All dairy was basically cows milk. And in the United States today, about 13 percent of the dairy category is plant based. We believe that within the next five years, 13 percent of the meat category will be plant based. It’s less than one percent today. So we think it will continue to excel. And of course, the meat category is the largest category in food. And as you said, you know, the one with the most profound impact on the planet. So if you were to think of a government program or a nonprofit initiative that could convert that much consumer behavior that quickly, you would enact it immediately. And what’s so wonderful about what’s happening here is consumers are doing that.
[00:19:54] And your generation, China, what are you saying about amongst your peer group? Can you see this change coming and moving fast?
[00:20:02] I hope so, yeah. No, I think it is a unique moment in food technology to see it advancing so quickly, I don’t want to steal to be on meat talking points, but I do want to mention some of the life-cycle analysis that we should share with the audience.
[00:20:17] The beyond meat burgers, when studied and compared and contrasted with animal based protein, require 90 percent, 99 percent less water and ninety three percent less land and 90 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions. Right, right.
[00:20:30] And that’s just such a compelling case from a resource perspective. And I think that my generation and the generations who were younger than than mine and generations to come are the ones who are impacted most by climate change and are going to be the most adamant about change. Can I just I want to ask the audience a question. If you are an environmental activist, would you please raise your hand? See out there? That’s wow, OK. That’s most people. Wow. Yeah, it should be everybody, I guess. Now, if you’re here, you probably should be concerned with the environmental consequences. But what we want to do, and I hope with the next generation will do is connect the dots between our environmental disaster, the climate crisis that is upon us and our consumption. You know, elections happen every once in a blue moon, very, very infrequently.
[00:21:23] But every single time we make a choice what to put in our bodies. It’s a chance to vote for the world we want to live in. And that is such a powerful decision that we should all really take it to heart. And again, I believe this is the most intimate relationship that we share with our planet. It’s how we subsist. And if we can practice conscious consumption conscious capitalism, we can create businesses that take ecology and put it at the core of our economy. And that’s a plant burger, really. And beyond meat. What what’s going on?
[00:21:56] I think the other thing that’s interesting is, I mean, look, meat plays a fundamental role in human evolution. We wouldn’t be here if our four ancestors hadn’t found dense protein that they could consume, which expanded our cranial capacity and allowed us to make sophisticated decisions. But I also think people don’t have an innate need to kill animals. I don’t think that’s part of our DNA. The protein and the nutrition and diet are. And so if we can provide if we can’t let people eat what they love and leave out that externality, I think does take that action.
[00:22:30] So it’s so good to hear that passion. And I do believe, like you were it, that we’re at a tipping point now and that that’s just going to come very quickly, which is which is great news. Final thoughts. Tell me when we can get one of these here in Paris. London.
[00:22:46] So good. Well, first of all, you can get them in a minute after we’re done speaking over at the hamburger stand. We just announced this week that Beyond Meat is launching in the casino chain. So that let’s bake yet. So that starting has nearly two months up today and tomorrow that will start. I can share with you we’re talking with other retailers. We certainly hope to see it expand. There are other independent restaurants or small restaurant chains that are carrying it here for. So it’s on its way.
[00:23:14] Fantastic. Yeah. And for my business plan Burger, it’s a little harder to to support us or to practice that lifestyle unless you’re in the Washington, D.C. area. Although we do have plans to expand rapidly. But the idea of conscious capitalism is something that you can go and practice right now. Everyone here has the power to go out and make choices with their dollars that will create a better, healthier world for future generations.
[00:23:40] That is where we’re going to leave it. That is couldn’t have put it better myself. Thank you both, Seth and Jonah. Fantastic.