Whatever your burger pleasure, targeting meat-eaters is a smart move — there are way more of them than there are vegans and vegetarians. Only 5 percent of Americans identify as vegetarian and 3 percent vegan, according to a 2017 Gallup poll. Those numbers haven't changed much in the last decade or so.
Brown says the company found that 93 percent of the consumers in conventional grocery stores that are buying a Beyond Meat product are also putting animal meat their basket. "So they're buying not only plant based meat, but they're buying animal meat and that's a really important breakthrough for us," Brown tells CNBC Make It.
One tipping point in bringing plant-based "meat" to the masses has been the increase in product quality thanks to brands like Beyond Meat, James Kenji López-Alt, chef/partner at Wursthall restaurant in San Mateo, California, tells CNBC Make It.
"Tens of millions of dollars have been invested into researching this product and making it better and making it more real meat-like. And I think we are ... 99 percent of the way there," he tells CNBC Make It. "It's close enough that people eating it enjoy it the same way that they enjoy actual ground beef."
Plus, he says, prices have "reduced drastically" to about the same amount as meat. (At Bareburger restaurant in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood of New York City, a Beyond Burger costs $12.95 and a comparable beef burger is $11.99. At the grocer, Beyond retails for about $5.99 for two patties, while four Wegmans patties retail for about $5.44 online.)
All this has made Beyond Meat big business.
Beyond Meat products are in more than 32,000 grocery stores, including Kroger, Safeway, Publix, Target and Wegmans. And Beyond Burger has menus from Fridays and Del Taco to Hamburger Mary's Bar and Grill to upscale Brasserie Ruhlmann in New York City; they're served at universities from Ohio State to Harvard and even theme parks like Legoland.
While TGI Fridays declines to share sales data, its senior director of food and beverage innovation David Spirito tells CNBC Make It that Fridays has guests saying they came to Fridays specifically for the Beyond Burger.
And burgers are not the only plant-based "meat" Beyond Meat sells. It also sells sausage, chicken strips and beef crumbles, and has other products in the works.
"We want to make bacon, we want to make steak, we want to make the most intricate and beautiful pieces of meat," says Brown.
In November, Beyond Meat filed for a $100 million initial public offering, reporting a 167 percent increase increase in revenue (to $56.4 million) for the first nine months of 2018 from the same period in 2017.
The company has grown from a $4.8 million valuation in 2011 to $550 million in November 2017, when Beyond Meat closed its latest ($55 million) round of funding, according to private market data company PitchBook. In addition to Gates, DiCaprio and Tyson, notable investors include Twitter co-founders Biz Stone and Evan Williams, Honest Tea founder Seth Goldman, venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins and the Humane Society of the United States.