Having an executive allegedly bite someone’s nose might be the least of Beyond Meat’s problems. Investors have taken a big chomp out of Beyond Meat’s stock price as fears grow that the popularity of plant-based food may have reached a peak.
Shares of Beyond Meat (BYND) were around $16 Wednesday. That’s down more than 75% this year, near an all-time low, and well below its peak price of near $235 in 2019 shortly after the company went public.
So is the plant-based food craze a fad that’s already over? Not exactly. Companies like Beyond Meat, rival Impossible and plant-based milk producer Oatly are still doing big deals with supermarket chains and restaurants to get their products on store shelves and menus.
Beyond Meat recently announced a recent partnership with Taco Bell. The Yum! (YUM) Brands-owned Mexican fast food chain will be selling quesadillas featuring Beyond’s plant-based carne asada steak.
But in the company’s most recent earnings call, Beyond Meat CEO Ethan Brown conceded that the company (and the industry) faces challenges.
Inflation is a problem for plant-based food biz too
“We went from a pandemic into record inflation,” Brown said. “And for a sector that’s still gathering its feet and is still in sort of the first set of downs, that’s a very difficult set of conditions to navigate.”
Brown conceded that “progress for us and for the sector is taking longer than expected.” Making matters more difficult for the company – Beyond Meat’s products tend to cost more at the grocery store than real, animal-based meat.
That’s why Brown said inflation will add more “pressure on consumer spending and specifically how this impacts higher-cost proteins and foods.” As such, he’s expecting “a delay in post-Covid resumption of growth.”
Oatly, which went public at a price of $17 in the summer of $21 and quickly surged to a peak of nearly $30, is also struggling as inflation concerns and supply chain woes present big problems. Shares have plummeted 66% this year and now trade below $3.
“We see tremendous challenges for retailers here to just navigate around this unprecedented change that is happening and also the consumers who are really monitoring their household budget,” said Oatly CEO Toni Petersson on the company’s latest earnings conference call last month.
These economic headwinds are likely to prompt Impossible Foods, which had been expected to go public sometime this year, to delay an initial public offering. Impossible was valued at $7 billion based on its most recent round of fundraising late last year. That was before the market imploded.
Of course, Beyond Meat and Impossible also face the challenge of competing with established food giants such as Kellogg (K), ConAgra (CAG) and Campbell Soup (CPB), which have also entered the plant-based market.
Perception that plants are ‘woke’ could limit sales
Companies in the plant-based food world face another more daunting challenge besides broader economic woes and new rivals: It may be tougher to convince consumers to switch to plant-based burgers or milk.
“After years of growth, plant-based meat sales in the United States are stagnating,” said consulting firm Deloitte in a recent report. “The addressable market may be more limited than many thought.”
Deloitte suggested that “the portion of the US population open to trying and repeat buying” plant-based proteins “may already have reached a saturation point.”
Plant-based companies may also face the problem of being viewed as “woke” in a highly polarized America.
Deloitte said in its report that customers who are not buying (or even trying) plant-based foods “may not be easily reachable, partly due to cultural resistance.”
Take, for example, the social media outcry last month when Cracker Barrel (CBRL) announced it was adding Impossible’s sausage to its breakfast menu.
So there is nothing fake about Wall Street’s concerns regarding the big drop in demand for “fake” meat and milk.