The humble pea was quite disruptive for Hans Christian Andersen’s sleepy princess, and this week it proved to be quite the disruptor yet again: the pea protein-based meat alternative company Beyond Meat closed its first day on Nasdaq with a 163% premium. After originally pricing its shares at $25/each, it opened on Thursday with a share price of $46. By day’s end, share prices had skyrocketed to $65.75, making Beyond Meat’s IPO one of the most successful of the year so far. The company plans to use the over $240 million it has raised to invest in manufacturing, expand its R&D efforts, and strengthen its marketing strategy.
Investors of the Bay Area-based company include the likes of Bill Gates, actor Leonardo DiCaprio, Twitter co-founders Biz Stone and Evan Williams, rapper-actor Snoop Dogg, rock climber Alex Honnold, and Honest Tea creator Seth Goldman (who is also executive chairman of the board at Beyond Meat). This diverse portfolio of investors is a reflection of Beyond Meat’s target audience: not just vegetarians (including vegans), but also those concerned about personal health, animal welfare, climate change, and the environment.
Focusing on plant-based beef and pork alternatives, Beyond Meat debuted their Beyond Meat burger, which can be found in the fresh meats section of grocery chains like Whole Foods Markets and Kroger, in 2016. No Whole Foods or Kroger in your area? Not to worry. Altogether, Beyond Meats products can be found in over 30,000 locations across the U.S. and Canada, including Target, Walmart, the Yankees Stadium, and fast food chain Carl’s Jr. In August last year, the company also introduced its products to the European market.
While the company is bringing in significant revenue, they have yet to make a profit — but the decision to go public may have been a fabulous strategic move: they’ve gone public before any of their direct competitors in a burgeoning alternative protein industry. And the competition is likely to be stiff: meat giant Tyson Foods is expected to release a meatless line of products later this year, and in light of Beyond Meat’s successful IPO, many are not-so-silently wondering when Impossible Foods, another plant-based meat alternative giant partnered with Burger King, will go public.
Yet plant-based alternate proteins, such as pea protein, have their own set of risks. In its SEC filing, Beyond Meats assented that its raw materials suppliers are limited in number, which could hurt the business if those providers hit their own set of production snags. And while plant-based proteins reduce greenhouse emissions associated with traditional animal-based agriculture, there could be more environmentally friendly means to produce protein alternatives — think cellular agriculture and microbial production of novel animal protein alternatives.
Memphis Meats, one of the largest players in the alternate proteins space, makes meat directly from animal cells in the laboratory — using less land, water, and energy as well as eliminating animal slaughter. Other companies, like Motif Ingredients (a Ginkgo Bioworks spin-off that recently raised a $90 million Series A), are leveraging microbial fermentation to produce plant-based proteins with improved taste, mouth feel, and nutritional profiles — and without the risks posed by a market with limited raw materials suppliers for traditional plant-based protein companies.
The playing field is busy, and Ginkgo Bioworks’ CEO Jason Kelly wonders whether this is the “Netscape moment” for alternate proteins, food tech, and synthetic biology. “Beyond Meat is the best IPO of the year hands down,” he says. “It proves that public market investors are excited about companies solving big problems in markets like food that haven’t seen serious technology disruption in a long time. Expect much more of that from synthetic biology — this is just the beginning.”
It seems as though one thing is certain: Netscape moment or not, the success of Beyond Meat’s IPO bodes extremely well for synthetic biology companies in the alternate protein space. Our supermarkets and restaurants may soon explode with alternative options that can help us be friendlier to our own bodies and our planet alike.
Meet the innovators and companies, find new opportunities, partner up and discover the potential of the biological industrial revolution. Join us October 1-3 in San Francisco to see how synthetic biology is disrupting food tech.