Beyond Meat founder and CEO Ethan Brown agreed to an interview with Kirschner’s Korner today to discuss customers’ concerns about a recent investment from animal agriculture company Tyson Foods.
An ethical vegan and passionate supporter of farmed animal advocacy organizations, Mr. Brown founded the plant-based meat company in 2009 to solve the problems he viewed in animal agriculture. With investments from Bill Gates and other visionaries, Beyond Meat’s products have grown exponentially in popularity since their launch in 2012. The following interview sheds light on the decision and the company’s mission.
Kirschner’s Korner (KK): Beyond Meat recently accepted an investment from Tyson Foods. What are the reasons you decided to partner with an animal agriculture company?
Ethan Brown (EB): We welcome Tyson Foods to Beyond Meat as a minority investor. It’s a hopeful sign that we may be moving towards a productive collaboration to expand consumer choice. We are excited to see Tyson investing in an increasingly plant-based future. The investment by Tyson in Beyond Meat will help us grow, scale and bring plant-based options to more consumers. It advances our mission to accept this investment.
KK: How would you respond to people who have expressed skepticism about Tyson’s motives and fear Beyond Meat will eventually sell the company or be negatively influenced by Tyson’s business model?
EB: Beyond Meat’s willingness to engage with Tyson may unsettle the most ardent supporters of our brand. Tyson will also likely hear disapproval from certain stakeholders, suppliers, and consumers. Yet in both cases, I like to think that our nascent relationship is a hopeful sign. There is no change to our mission, vision or any aspect of our products. We’ve always been about giving consumers a choice. Our approach is to make plant-based foods so good that they win a spot at the center of the dinner plate. We could think of no stronger indication of progress toward this goal than to have a major protein player investing to help bring this option to more consumers.
KK: Consumers have become increasingly disheartened by corporate malfeasance. Many companies cheat, steal, abuse employees, pollute, and harm animals. What do you want Beyond Meat’s customers to know about your company’s values?
EB: It’s Beyond Meat’s core belief that plant-based protein has profound benefits in the areas of human health, climate change, natural resources, and animal welfare. We remain 100% committed to our goal of creating meat directly from plants in order to have a positive impact in each of these areas. Do I think Tyson and its executives are the enemy because they have a radically different view of our relationship to animals? I don’t. I realize that this may disappoint many people. In fact, I’ve found the Tyson executives with whom I’ve interacted to be principled and constructive people. It is true, their beliefs don’t comport with mine on animals. Yet neither do those of my broader family, the vast majority of my friends, colleagues, neighbors, and many others I greatly respect, all of whom eat animal-based meat. The good news is that Tyson and I can–and do—agree on many other things including: the need for sustainable protein for a growing global population; that innovation can fuel growth and profit; and that business best serves the consumer by offering choice.
KK: What will the investment from Tyson Foods allow Beyond Meat to accomplish?
EB: What can you expect from Beyond Meat going forward? More of the same relentless pursuit of meat. With Tyson’s investment, we are expanding the Manhattan Beach Project, our already formidable research and development program to understand animal meat better than anyone else so we can build it from plants. We will remain committed to non-GMO inputs and will continue to strive for understandable ingredients, always plant-based. Lastly, we won’t let a product that is “good enough” distract from what we know to be possible: building meat from plants.
KK: What are Beyond Meat’s long-term goals as a company?
EB: Our mission is to create mass-market solutions that perfectly replace animal protein with plant protein. We are dedicated to improving human health, positively impacting climate change, conserving natural resources and respecting animal welfare. At Beyond Meat, we want to make the world a better place and we’re starting one delicious meal at a time.
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