Beyond Meat Inc., the California-based maker of plant-based alternatives to traditional hamburgers and sausages, encapsulates two important trends: consumers’ growing appetite for vegetarian food, and Wall Street’s equally voracious appetite for money-losing companies.
The company is expected to start trading on the Nasdaq exchange on Thursday, without any profits but with a great deal of interest in its potential ability to tap an important shift in people’s eating habits.
In Canada, 2.3 million people described themselves as vegetarians in 2018, according to researchers at Dalhousie University. That is more than double the number 15 years earlier. Add in vegans and the total number of Canadians who avoid meat rises to more than three million.
A similar, although less pronounced, shift is evident in the United States and other countries, but until now, investors have had few ways to bet directly on the growing number of veggie consumers. Beyond Meat’s shares will likely be of immediate interest to many funds that practise socially responsible investing. It will also attract attention from more mercenary buyers who simply want to make a buck from the dietary transformation.
To be sure, the profit potential is a great unknown. Beyond Meat has never made money and lost US$29.9-million on revenue of US$87.9-million in 2018. But money-losing companies are becoming the new normal in Wall Street debuts. Lyft Inc. and Pinterest Inc. went public earlier this year and Uber Technologies Inc. and WeWork are following suit. Their losses dwarf the red ink at Beyond Meat.
Investors seem willing to overlook the company’s bottom line for now. On Tuesday, Beyond Meat said it had increased the size of its planned offering, bumping it up to 9.6 million shares, from 8.8 million previously.
It hopes to sell the shares at US$23 to US$25 a share. If it hits the high end of the target range when the shares price after market close on Wednesday, it will raise up to US$240-million, which would value the entire company at nearly US$1.5-billion.
Beyond Meat products are already available at Whole Foods and other supermarkets in the United States. In Canada, its burgers are sold at A&W and will start appearing in grocers, including Metro, Loblaws and Sobeys, by the end of May, according to a company press release.
“We currently do not have sufficient capacity to meet our customers’ demands,” Beyond Meat said in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. That is a nice problem to have, but it also points to some of the risks involved with investing in a rapidly growing company that is still building out its supply and manufacturing chain.
At the moment, Beyond Meat depends on only two suppliers for the Canadian and European pea protein it uses to make its mock meat. It has already suffered disruptions from one supplier and bad weather or floods could mean further interruptions.
Beyond Meat also faces competition from several companies that offer their own plant-based alternatives to meat. Privately owned Impossible Foods Inc., one of those rivals, recently signed a deal with Burger King, which is test-marketing an Impossible Whopper at some locations. Meanwhile, Canada’s Maple Leaf Foods Inc. is building a plant in Indiana that will turn out plant-based protein products, including burgers and sausages.
It’s impossible at this point to say which company, or companies, will dominate. However, Beyond Meat’s surging revenues, which climbed from US$16.2-million in 2016 to US$87.9-million in 2018, suggest it is in good position to take at least a portion of the market.
For patient investors who don’t mind risk, Beyond Meat could be an intriguing speculation. But in a market so unsettled, it also makes sense to keep money in reserve to buy a stake in some of the company’s rivals as well.