When Beyond Meat Inc. went public in May 2019, its shares soared 163% on its first day of trading, making it the best-performing large IPO in the U.S. in more than a decade. That boffo stock market debut might have led many to think that Beyond had a lock on the faux meat market. But don’t tell that to Bareburger, a 38-location, New York-based upscale burger chain with a mix of meat and vegan options. It took Beyond’s products off its menu in the spring of 2020, while continuing to serve those of archrival Impossible Foods Inc. “It wasn’t a hard decision to move away from Beyond,” says Jonathan Lemon, Bareburger’s director of culinary operations. The chain had been serving both Beyond’s and Impossible’s fare for more than two years, and decided it wasn’t worth keeping Beyond’s patties in stock when they drew so few orders from its customers. “We were moving a lot more Impossible,” Lemon says.
A few years ago the big question was whether fake meat would take off. Now that it’s moving into the mainstream—the global market is projected to reach $450 billion by 2040, according to global consulting firm Kearney—the new question is: Who will ultimately command the industry?
In the U.S., the race has been largely between Los Angeles-based Beyond and Silicon Valley-based Impossible. From the numbers alone, Beyond is the clear leader: It’s in more U.S. retailers (28,000 compared with Impossible’s 20,000), more restaurants (42,000 in the U.S. vs. 30,000-plus), and more international markets (more than 80 vs. 5). The company reported a 36.6% net revenue increase for 2020 and in 2021 has announced new or expanded partnerships with McDonald’s, Yum! Brands, and PepsiCo. It has strong footholds in China and the European Union, where doors remain closed to Impossible’s products because of heme, the genetically modified ingredient they contain.
But Beyond’s lead may be narrowing. Its food-service sales dropped precipitously during the pandemic, because of lockdowns and the company’s heavy dependence on small sit-down restaurant chains and independents. While those eateries suffered big losses as dining out was restricted, larger chains fared better thanks to their established ordering technology and Covid-friendly drive-thrus.
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