El Segundo is an unassuming town in Southern California with a sleepy surfer vibe. Driving past the small brick buildings and old-school delis, I almost forgot I was on my way to visit the company producing what Bill Gates called “the future of food!”
That would be Beyond Meat, the plant-based protein company that’s received investments from Obvious Ventures (the venture fund of Twitter’s co-founders) as well as Tyson Foods (one of the largest animal-meat producers on the planet). It even has Don Thompson, McDonald’s former CEO, on its board.
But make no mistake: Beyond Meat’s mission is to fundamentally change the status quo when it comes to meat production.
Everything about Beyond Meat – from its production facility to its products – are object lessons in the clash between the classic and the cutting edge. And I got to see this intriguing new take on what a meat company could be firsthand on a trip to Beyond Meat’s HQ, accompanied by The Good Food Institute’s executive director, Bruce Friedrich, as well as Carol J. Adams, author of an upcoming book on the history and future of the burger.
The first thing you notice when you walk into Beyond Meat are all of the fitspo images canvassing the wall, featuring elite athletes such as pro basketball player J.J. Redick and Olympic volleyball star April Ross. I also spot a kettlebell resting in a far corner.
These people are serious about their protein.
But to this crowd, the production process is just as important as the protein itself – a difference that becomes evident as CEO Ethan Brown (perhaps the kindest human I have ever met), leads us up to the herd of one that produces all of the company’s meat.
This “herd” is the facility’s extruder, which is roughly the size of a hefty steer. It’s inside of this machine that plant proteins are placed under tremendous pressure and heat to realign their structure and create a texture analogous to animal meat. It’s easy to think of this process like making diamonds from coal, but more useful. (World-saving burgers are a girl’s best friend?)
After spending some time watching this superhero “steer” in action, we get the chance to pick the brains of the team of food scientists who make plant proteins express “meaty” characteristics, from taste and texture to aromatics during cooking. I’m sworn to secrecy on some developments coming down the pipeline, but you can safely assume this: expect even more innovation and constant improvement as Beyond Meat works to transform the entire meat industry.
Ethan is committed to this transformation for four key reasons, which are listed front-and-center in the office as a constant reminder and guiding force:
- Improving Human Health
- Positively Impacting Climate Change
- Addressing Global Resource Constraints
- Improving Animal Welfare
It’s for these reasons that Ethan says it’s Beyond Meat’s obligation – “our opportunity, really” – to redefine the way meat is made. As a food-lover and a resident of planet Earth, I’m immensely grateful that the company has created such a delicious solution to dire problems.
After chowing down on hearty burgers that triggered intense nostalgia for the Carolina cookouts of my youth, Carol summed up the elegance of Beyond Meat’s solution: “I like the idea that there are four central, global problems with one solution. And we ate it at lunch today.”
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