That sound you hear? It isn't the sound of pigs flying, though it might mean that fewer of them get eaten. Tyson — the country’s largest processor of chicken, pork, and red meat products — has invested in a company that aims to get people to eat less meat.
According to a press release, Tyson has taken a five-percent ownership stake in plant-based protein producer Beyond Meat. The investment will provide additional capital to help the company expand its product portfolio and distribution, though Beyond Meat will remain an independent, privately held company led by CEO Ethan Brown.
The New York Times reports the terms of the deal were not disclosed, but other notable investors in the most recent financing round include one organization that typically finds itself at odds with Tyson: the Humane Society of the United States.
Beyond Meat is one of a slew of companies aiming to capitalize on the trend of protein alternatives that taste, and look, like real meat. This new class of veggie burgers is a far cry from the oat-and-bean pucks of the 1970s, one informed by technology as much as it is by nutrition. There are chicken strips that taste, well, like chicken; burgers that “bleed” beet juice. Some companies, like Mosa Meat, even specialize in lab-grown burgers made from stem cells, so diners can eat real meat protein without harming the planet.
Beyond Meat’s Beyond Burger is a burger that bleeds beet-blood: it’s entirely plant-based, but sold in the meat section of the grocery store — a marketing ploy to get carnivores to buy it, too. The primary source of protein in the burger comes from peas, which might not sound as appetizing as real meat, but it seems to be winning over customers. When they were first put onto Whole Foods shelves, the burgers sold out in under an hour.
Tyson isn’t the only company that’s been wooed by Beyond Meat’s offerings. In October 2015, the company raised $17 million in funding from a slew of big name tech investors like Bill Gates and Menlo Park’s Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.
In a release, founder Ethan Brown said the Tyson investment “underscores the growing market for plant protein.” It also offers Tyson exposure to a fast-growing market. As the Times notes, companies specializing in meat alternatives “rang up $4.9 billion in sales for the 12 months through June, and grew faster than the food business over all.”
Investors certainly don’t seem to mind the meat company’s flirtation with vegetarianism. Tyson’s stock went up upon news of the investment.
• Tyson Foods, a Meat Leader, Invests in Protein Alternatives [NY Times]
• Beyond Meat and Tyson Foods Announce Investment Agreement [release]
• Why Do People Want Veggie Burgers That Bleed? [E]