Ethan Brown, founder and chief executive officer of Beyond Meat

The plant protein pioneer

Ethan Brown founded Beyond Meat nine years ago on the transformative idea that “you don’t need an animal to produce a piece of meat,” he said. Soy burgers and similar alternatives had existed for decades, but Mr. Brown wanted to produce a plant-based patty that looked, cooked and tasted like beef.

“The basic idea is everything is available to us outside of the animal and we can use science and technology to build meat perfectly from plants,” Mr. Brown said.

Nearly a decade later, his company’s flagship Beyond Burger is sold in 25,000 stores and restaurants around the country. The company also offers plant-based Beyond Sausage links, Beyond Chicken strips and Beyond Beef crumbles.

“If you can take a step away from saying it has to come from a chicken, cow or pig and instead transition your thinking to, ‘What is meat?’... Meat is pretty simple, actually,” he said. “Essentially, it’s amino acids, it’s lipids, it’s trace minerals, and it’s water. It’s really those four things and a very small amount of carbohydrates. The blueprint of meat is no mystery to us.”


TGI Fridays Beyond Burger
TGI Fridays recently began carrying the Beyond Burger in more than 450 restaurants.


Without the use of genetically modified or artificial ingredients, Beyond Meat is made with “very common ingredients that we are structuring differently,” Mr. Brown said. “It has to come from things the average shopper can understand.”

In grocery stores, Beyond Meat products are merchandised in the meat case because, Mr. Brown said, “I wanted people to think about this as meat and not a meat alternative.”

Beyond Meat has attracted some high-profile investors, including former McDonald’s chief executive officer Don Thompson, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, actor Leonardo DiCaprio and Tyson Foods, Inc. Earlier this year, casual dining chain TGI Fridays added the Beyond Burger to the menu at its more than 450 restaurants nationwide, just a couple months after testing the product in several locations.

“That’s enormously encouraging to me,” Mr. Brown said. “We are unlocking a latent desire within the human mind to continue to consume meat but do so in a way we all feel better about. It’s better for the earth, it’s better for your body, and it’s obviously better for animals.”