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Beyond Meat says one overseas market has 'desperate' need for plant-based protein

Key Points
  • Beyond Meat shares surged after its better-than-expected first-quarter results on Friday, as growth around the world for plant-based protein alternatives to meat exceeded forecasts.
  • The global region where Beyond Meat says the need is "desperate" for its products is Asia.
  • Even though beef has never been a staple in many Asian countries, Asia has the fastest-growth rate of beef consumption in the world. It also faces some of the world's biggest environmental issues.
Beyond Meat plant-based burger patties.
Source: Beyond Meat

Beyond Meat is booming in the U.S., which has the highest level of animal-based meat consumption per person on a global basis and where meat is the largest category in the food industry, a $270 billion business. The U.S. opportunity is just getting started: Nielsen data shows Beyond Meat has just 2% household penetration in the United States.

But the company has said that the global opportunity is just as compelling — meat is estimated to be a $1.4 trillion market — and that is where some of Beyond Meat's fastest growth may yet come.

Shares of Beyond Meat, already the best initial public offering of 2019, soared after its first-ever earnings report as a public company, and the opportunity in Asia is one that CFO Mark Nelson highlighted.

Responding to a question from an analyst on the quarterly earnings conference call about the international opportunity and how much of the growth it will drive going forward, Nelson said it is an important "but still pretty small percentage of our overall revenue." He noted that Europe and Asia are "very significant" markets for its products and pointed to the fact that Europe already has a "very well-developed market" for plant-based proteins.

But it was the word he used to describe the Asian opportunity that was about as dramatic as CFO talk ever gets. "Asia has a desperate need for this. So I'm going to be very aggressive in going into those markets, and our team will be as well. ... Asia is absolutely a strong part of our strategy."

Beyond Meat has been planning for international expansion since well before its public debut. It noted in 2018 that 10% of its consumer inquiries in the previous year were from international markets, a factor that contributed to its rollout across 40 countries. Beyond Meat is currently distributed internationally to through local partners in Australia, Chile, the European Union, Hong Kong, Ireland, Israel, the Middle East, New Zealand, South Korea, Taiwan and the United Kingdom, markets where the company said it "received strong inbound interest for our plant-based products."

In March, Beyond Meat introduced its plant-based protein burger in Singapore. That followed the 2017 introduction of the Beyond Burger in Hong Kong. Among international markets, Australia is among Beyond Meat's most penetrated to date. The company had said in its S-1 filing ahead of the IPO, "for several years we have maintained a presence and generated brand awareness in Asia through our local distributor, and expect further expansion in the region over time."

Beyond Meat early investor: Management has made all the right moves

Beyond Meat has previously cited research firm forecasts that the global market for plant-based meat will be worth $6.5 billion by 2023, with the fastest-growing market being the Asia-Pacific region. Allied Market Research data shows that though demand is highest in Europe and North America, the Asia-Pacific region is the fastest-growing market for the plant-based products, with demand forecast to increase at a compound rate of 9.4% a year until 2025.

In its IPO filing, Beyond Meat stated, "In markets excluding the United States, the amount of meat consumed has more than doubled in the past two decades from 120 million tons in 1997 to 280 million tons in 2017, according to the OECD."

In 2017 and 2018, international sales represented only approximately 1% and 7% of Beyond Meat sales, but the company expects international sales to "grow substantially in the future ... and contribute an increasing share of our net revenues in coming periods."

International is growing more quickly than the company expected, its management team said on the earnings call. It just signed a deal with Netherlands-based Zandbergen for its first production facility overseas, and Beyond Meat executive chairman Seth Goldman said on the call, "We have certainly seen growth in Europe happening more quickly than we anticipated. And so from our point of view, as Ethan [Brown, CEO] said, we want to be aggressive with production."

Many factors at play in Asia

Many Asian markets were not historically places where beef was a staple on the diet — it still is not in many. But with a rising middle class, especially in China, beef consumption has been rising. In the early 1980s, China's meat consumption per head was around 13 kilograms per year and has risen to 50 kg per person — over half the level in the U.S., according to data cited by Dora Marinova, director of the Curtin University Sustainability Policy Institute in Australia, in a recent Nikkei Asian Review article.

"Consumption has already surpassed sustainable levels in China," she told the Nikkei. "From an environmental point of view, it has to go down to at least half of what it is."

Some Asian players are moving into the space. In Japan, Otsuka Foods launched the market's first plant-based protein burgers last year.

Asia's growing population and appetite for protein is not just limited to beef, but historical staples like pork and seafood, and that will have major consequences for the globe.

A report from Singapore-based consultant Asia Research and Engagement forecasts that a rising Asian population, increasing incomes and the trend toward urbanization will result in a 78% increase in meat and seafood demand from 2017 to 2050, according to a Reuters report.

The report estimates that a land area the size of India will be needed for additional food production, while water use will double per year and greenhouse gas emissions spike. It also noted the use of antibiotics in the livestock industry will present greater risks for human and animal infection.

Euromonitor research from recent years shows that Asian animal protein consumption can vary widely based on income. Per capita meat, fish, and seafood consumption ranges from as law as 11 kg per capita per year in India to over 144 kg in Hong Kong. Hong Kong, where Beyond Meat introduced its burger in 2017, has 23 times the per capita annual disposable income of India.

In China, non-income factors have made beef more attractive. Pork industry safety scandals, public health campaigns designed to encourage the consumption of lower fat protein options, and recent bird flu epidemics led to beef and veal becoming the fastest-growing meat category in volume in recent years, Euromonitor found.