As new market booms, which meat alternative will win out?

Kristen Leigh Painter, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) on

Published in Business News

Mighty Spark Foods, a Minneapolis maker of lean natural meats, links and blended patties, filled its corporate website for months with recipes and news about its executives and charitable work.

Then came the Beyond Meat IPO. The Los Angeles-area maker of faux meat based on pea protein and other ingredients went public last month, and its stock price jumped more than any other IPO this year. An article then appeared on Mighty Spark's website headlined, "The Truth About Lean Poultry Compared to 'Faux Meat.' " It said that its patties have fewer calories, fewer carbs, less fat and less saturated fat than Beyond Meat's.

"I don't think the average consumer understands that," Nick Beste, Mighty Spark's founder and chief executive, said in an interview. "I know my girlfriend doesn't and I run this company."

Beyond Meat's meteoric stock-market debut has shown there's big money in alternative meats, perhaps far more than entrepreneurs like Beste ever expected. Its shares opened at $25 on May 2, briefly touched $200 last Tuesday before falling to around $165, a level that placed the company's market value at $10 billion.

Now, investors are looking more seriously at other makers of alternative meat products. And industry giants like Hormel and Tyson said they are working on their own plant-based proteins.

Like Beyond Meat, scores of small companies are trying to do meat differently. Some are raising meat from cells in a lab while others make imitations from newly concocted plant-based ingredients. All these innovators are trying to connect with consumers, as well as investors, and are preaching their own different virtues: environmental, social or nutritional benefits.

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And in the weeks since the Beyond Meat IPO, the tone coming from these entrepreneurs' firms has changed. While they previously extolled the virtues and benefits of their approaches against conventional meat products, they are now drawing sharp contrasts with each other -- with knives unsheathed.

"The competitors in the space are freaking out because there is so much attention right now," said Laurie Demeritt, chief executive of consumer-food research firm the Hartman Group.

For instance, Impossible Foods, which makes a plant-based burger patty similar to Beyond Meat's, just published an environmental-impact report that took aim at a practice called regenerative grazing, which yields meat from animals raised in a manner that reduces their carbon impact. Impossible called such meat "the 'clean coal' of beef."

That angered Will Harris, a well-known rancher and leader in the regenerative-agriculture movement. "I welcome the discussion and the new meat products that are being offered. I think it's good for consumers to have those choices," Harris said last week. "But I am resentful of the criticism that each of these proteins is offering of others."


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