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UPDATE 1-Vegan burger maker Beyond Meat sizzles in market debut

Bharath ManjeshR and Tina Bellon

(Adds quotes from CEO, background on business, details on competitors)

NEW YORK, May 2 (Reuters) - Shares of vegan burger maker Beyond Meat Inc surged 84 percent in their market debut on Thursday, as investors look to cash in on the growing popularity of plant-based meat alternatives.

The stock opened at $46, well above its IPO price of $25, giving Beyond Meat a market capitalization of around $2.75 billion, including underwriters' option.

Shares surged to $50 just minutes after starting to trade and were halted due to volatility. They have since resumed trading at more than $59.

Earlier on Tuesday, the company raised the size and price of its offering after increased demand from investors. The IPO raised $240 million.

The money raised from the IPO gives Beyond Meat firepower to compete with other rivals in the increasingly crowded imitation meat market, such as Silicon Valley startup Impossible Foods.

Beyond Meat founder and Chief Executive Ethan Brown on Thursday morning at the Nasdaq stock exchange called plant-based meat an "enormous opportunity for economic growth in rural America and throughout the world."

"We understand the composition of meat, we understand the architecture and year after year we collapse the gaps between our product and animal protein," Brown said of Beyond Meat, which counts actor Leonardo DiCaprio and Microsoft Corp founder Bill Gates among its investors.

Beyond Meat's existing stockholders did not sell any shares in the offering.

The company aims to market its meatless burger patties and other products to meat-loving consumers by avoiding terms such as vegan or vegetarian and instead displaying its products in the meat case of supermarkets.

Plant-based substitutes for meat have been gaining popularity as more people shift towards vegan or vegetarian diets, amid growing concerns about animal welfare and the environmental hazards of intensive animal farming.

Tyson Foods Inc, the no. 1 U.S. meat processor, owned a 6.5 percent stake in Beyond Meat, but last week said it sold its holding, as it looks to develop its own line of alternative protein products.

Burger King and Impossible Foods last month started selling their vegan burger Impossible Whopper in 59 stores in and around St. Louis, Missouri, with nationwide sales expected by the end of the year.

Los Angeles-based Beyond Meat began selling its plant-based burger at more than 1,100 U.S. locations of fast-food chain Carl's Jr in January.

The company said it intends to use a bulk of its IPO proceeds for research and development, as well as building manufacturing facilities.

Beyond Meat creates substitutes for meat by using ingredients that mimic the composition of animal-based meat, like proteins from peas, fava beans and soy, that look and cook like beef or chicken.

Currently, some 70 percent of the company's revenues are generated by its flagship Beyond Burger patties. The company also sells imitation sausages and vegan ground beef.

In 2018, some $50 million of Beyond Meat's revenues came from retail sales, including at Amazon.com Inc's Whole Foods Market and Kroger Co supermarkets, while some $37 million was generated at restaurants.

The company in filings said it planned to aggressively expand its network of restaurant partners and sales outside the United States, which currently account for 7 percent of revenues.

But Beyond Meat also said it struggled with production capacity issues in the face of growing demand, and interruptions in the supply of pea protein, which it currently sources from two producers in Canada and France.

Beyond Meat's net loss narrowed marginally to $29.89 million in the year ended Dec. 31, from $30.38 million a year earlier. Net revenue more than doubled to $87.93 million in the same period.

The company warned it may never turn a profit and expects higher expenses as it looks to expand its footprint.

Goldman Sachs, J.P.Morgan and Credit Suisse are the lead underwriters to the IPO. (Reporting by Bharath Manjesh in Bengaluru and Tina Bellon in New York; Editing by Anil D'Silva)