The Challenger Brander: 5 Questions With Seth Goldman


Seth Goldman - Honest Tea

In its growing competition with Impossible Burger to persuade consumers that it has the most “meat-like” non-meat patty, Beyond Meat can’t boast that it’s got Bill Gates in its corner as an investor, because its rival does as well.

But only Beyond Meat has Seth Goldman as Executive Chairman, champion and a guiding presence. Goldman is the rock star entrepreneur who launched one of the most successful challenger brands of the better-for-you revolution, Honest Tea. Now he’s taking the next step (beyond) by working with the team behind Beyond Burger.

Beyond Meat / Beyond Burger

After shaking up the existing order with organic teas and other beverages, Goldman saw one of the world’s most valuable brands, Coca-Cola, buy a big stake in Honest Tea and then acquire the whole company in 2011, turning Honest Tea into a $100 million brand and a cornerstone of Coca-Cola’s diversification into categories beyond carbonated soft drinks.

Now Goldman, who still spends about half his time with the Honest Tea team as “Co-founder and TeaEO Emeritus” and helped seal its new McDonald’s Happy Meal deal, is working with Beyond Meat CEO Ethan Brown to try to fuel the same kind of growth. Only this time, instead of shaking up the beverage industry, the focus is on the growing number of people who prefer plant-based proteins to animal-based ones. And, of course, to convert others who don’t.

“It won’t happen overnight and there will be other competitors, but we’re the first ones on the shore,” Goldman, who’s a vegetarian, told brandchannel. Since launching in April, the Beyond Burger has supercharged the company’s sales, which Goldman said easily will exceed $10 million this year. “We’re reaching people who don’t consider themselves vegan or vegetarian.”

With investors including Gates and chicken processing giant Tyson Foods, Beyond Meat launched with chicken-like food products that for most of the company’s $5 million in sales in 2016. But its introduction of the Beyond Burger this year was a “breakthrough,” Goldman says, because of how closely the product mimics characteristics of how beef behaves when made into a hamburger patty —even “bleeding” with beet juice when cooked—and because of its retail strategy. It’s being sold (and promoted) in grocery stores’ meat cases, right next to pork chops and ground round.

brandchannel talked with Goldman about the growth strategy to make Beyond live up to its name.

Seth, how has your relationship with Beyond Meat evolved, especially as you’re still involved with Honest Tea and Coca-Cola?

First I agreed to become an investor and board member of Beyond Meat and would check in with Ethan on strategy and margins and other issues. When Honest Tea graduated into Coke’s overall portfolio, I had less of a hand in running the Honest Tea business. But I wanted to stay on to guide it and make sure it stays on the right course. Now Honest Tea is at the place where it’s finally harvesting from all our efforts.

Coke understood my need to get back into challenger mode and granted my request to spend half my time working with this completely different enterprise of Beyond Meat. I took on the role of executive chairman of the board and am on the management team, lead fundraising, meet with investors and think strategically about how we grow and scale. I brought in Tyson, for instance.

Why excites you about making Beyond Burger a staple brand?

It tastes good. That’s what people care about. Does it chew and smell good and is it juicy and does it retain its flavor? That’s the breakthrough. So is getting into the meat case so you’re not just selling to the five or six percent of consumers who are vegan.

For everyone, it’s all about the product. I was on a sales call to a Whole Foods buyer and just getting the call was a struggle, because he’s a meat buyer. So we sat him down and plugged in a grill and put a Beyond Burger on it and he sees this veggie burger start to sizzle. He smells the aroma, he chews it … No amount of numbers can make that kind of difference.

What’s the strategy to expand Beyond?

We’ve piloted in a few stores with Safeway and with Kroger. We have tons of expansion opportunities. We’re already in Wegmans and several other chains were planning to bring us on. Yale, Harvard and Stanford are putting it in [food service facilities], and a lot of other universities too.

Ethan Brown has been quoted as saying his goal is to cut global meat consumption by 25 percent by 2020. What’s your outlook for Beyond Meat?

Look at the dairy category: 14 percent of it now is plant-based, like soy or almong or rice milk. I believe the same could be true for meat. If we get to that meat [department] I believe there’s potential for at least 14 percent of this category to become plant-based.

Will there be other categories for Beyond Meat?

There will be other categories and other innovations. The Beyond Burger is a great place to start.We’re working on a sausage product that we’re excited about, and certainly there will be more meat occasions where there will be opportunities.

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