This week, Bloomberg surfaced photos from Beyond Meat’s Pennsylvania plant allegedly showing evidence of mold, listeria, and other food safety issues. Products from the plant tested positive for listeria 11 times between the second half of last year and the first half of this year, according to Bloomberg, and internal reports from the company reveal that substances such as wood, metal, and plastic have been found in food from the plant. (“The most recent Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture inspections of the facility (in March and September 2022) found no instances of nonconformance with regulations, and we remain in good standing with the Department,” a Beyond Meat spokesperson said in a statement.)
For Beyond Meat, 2022 has been a series of stumbles—even preceding this one. As of the second quarter of this year, the company, which serves an array of meat substitutes like plant-based burgers, fake-meat chicken tenders, and vegetarian sausages mostly found in grocery stores, posted a net loss of $97.1 million. Its partnership with McDonald’s serving a plant-based burger tanked across the U.S. And, of course, who could forget its COO’s arrest and suspension after he bit a man’s nose? These can only mean one thing: The brand is firmly ensconced in its flop era.
How did the company, astronomically valued over $10 billion in 2019 after an incredibly successful public offering, come crashing down to earth so spectacularly?
At the root of the problem, it seems, are those slower than expected sales. Beyond Meat, which saw impressive growth over the pandemic, failed to meet this year’s projected growth rate of 33%, despite releasing new products like Beyond Steak and a line of jerkies onto the market. The company winnowed down its workforce in August as a cost-cutting measure, and then laid off a further 19% of its workforce, amounting to 200 employees, in October.
In July, Beyond Meat’s buzzy collaboration with McDonald’s also ended after a six-month pilot program, with neither party announcing further plans to reintroduce the program. The fake meat burgers (called “McPlant”) were available in about 600 McDonald’s locations, and the partnership had put Beyond Meat in a position to reach a wide audience. But it seemed that American McDonald’s diners were not eager to try fake meat, and Beyond devotees, many of whom are vegan or vegetarian, were not excited by the prospect of spending their money at McDonald’s, a key player in the mass-meat market.
Plus, it wasn’t a boon to stock prices when Beyond Meat COO Doug Ramsey allegedly bit off a chunk of a man’s nose in September. Ramsey got into an argument in a parking garage (relatable) after a football game (understandable) and after punching through the back window of his victim’s car (as one does), he got into a physical altercation with the man, eventually biting off a piece of his nose. Ramsey was arrested and subsequently suspended from his role at Beyond.
Beyond Meat’s stock has plunged a staggering 83% in the past year, and its prospects, quite frankly, aren’t looking great. Experts suspect inflation has had an impact on the fake meat industry as shoppers have passed over brands like Beyond in favor of less expensive options, although a spokesperson for Impossible Foods told The New York Times that it is seeing “hypergrowth.”As investment research analyst David Trainer told Bloomberg, “[Beyond Meat] can’t make money selling their product, they sell it at a loss. And at the end of the day, if you can’t fix that, you’ve got no hope.”
In a competitive field, it’s hard to recover from as many consecutive scandals as Beyond Meat has seen in the last 12 months. But beyond the company’s prolonged public humiliation, consumers are realizing fake meats aren’t all that healthier than real meat, and, let’s face it, some feel pretty tepid about Beyond Meat’s taste. This is not to say that the fake meat industry can’t be a profitable one, but as the kinks are worked out, Beyond Meat could be a casualty of the shifting market.