What it’ll take for us to go Beyond Meat

When the substitution becomes the new institution.
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written by oz chen

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In 2018, I tried the Impossible Burger for the first time.

It tasted 80% like a burger. I was seriously impressed.

But that wasn’t enough to make me give up meat.

I’ve occasionally dabbled with vegetarianism but never stuck with it. I love meat too much. The last meal I’d want to have on earth is a juicy prime rib (medium rare) with roasted Brussels sprouts. And rum raisin ice cream.

Deeply ingrained habits like eating are especially hard to change.

I eat at least twice a day, and some type of meat protein is at the center of my plate. I’m constantly reinforcing the habit of how I eat. Maybe that’s why most diets fail.

Every time I watch documentaries like Cowspiracy, Forks over Knives and most recently Gamechangers, I felt an odd mix of shame and motivation to try giving up meat.

They argued: Save the animals. Stop the murder. Give up meat.

I don’t think this will work as well as what companies like Beyond Meat are doing: offer a substitute that is nearly indistinguishable from the original offering.

As someone who’s building conviction in stocks, I think Beyond Meat’s approach will actually change the game and disrupt how we eat.

Replace, don’t resist

I used to drink a ton of whole milk. I loved the Got Milk? commercials and associated milk with athleticism, Vitamin D and masculinity.

Then something happened over the last decade. Milk got disrupted.

Mooove over, cow milk!

Soy milk was the first to upgrade itself with nutrients to get on par with cow milk. Then we got newfangled offerings in almond milk, cashew milk, rice milk and lest we forget, the hipster oat milk.

With the increased availability of alternative milks, I eventually ended up buying plant-based milks more than regular milk.

The difference wasn’t that I had a sudden change of heart. It was just that the substitutes that were available became just as good – and available – as the incumbents.

Beyond Meat gets this right from the angle of behavioral economics. Here’s the philosophy behind their mission:

You don’t build a business telling people not to eat what they love. You build a business helping people to eat what they love, and more of it.

Ethan Brown, CEO of Beyond Meat

It’s going to be much easier to replace meat with something like meat than it is to stop eating meat.

This is supported by behavioral science.

It’s much easier to start doing something new than to stop doing something habitual without a replacement behaviour

Neuroscientist Elliot Berkman

We see this in happening in multiple categories of products.

  • Tesla didn’t set out to make a normal car. They created a best-in-class car that people wanted to drive it. It just happened to be electric.
  • Lab-grown diamonds are taking away market share from mined diamonds. There’s virtually no difference yet they’re a fraction of the cost
  • Uber didn’t try to compete within the existing taxi industry. They forged a completely new industry of ridesharing that was cheaper, more available and easier to use than taxis. It was a no-brainer for users to switch.

Getting back to the meat of the issue—real meat just never had good enough competition until recently.

Given the same product lines, consumers will be incentivized to choose another product if it’s perceived as cheaper or more superior in some way.

And I think that’s the a big distinction here. Better technology and economics will cause behavioral change disproportionately more than morality.

Where does morality stand in the fight against animal farming?

Ethan Brown (Beyond Meat CEO) himself said that “it would be a mistake to demonize the consumption of meat.”

He’s made the smart play of working with industry incumbents like Tyson and McDonalds instead of fighting them.

“It would be a mistake to demonize the consumption of meat”

I think it’ll be an 80/20 approach. The big lever here is technology through food science. Morality will further incentivize the “last mile” of adoption.

People who want to kick their habit for reasons that are aligned with their personal values will change their behaviour faster than people who are doing it for external reasons such as pressure from others

Elliot Berkman, neuroscientist

Let’s stress that last point – we’re less likely to change if we’re doing it for external reasons like social pressure (morality).

Not that I think people are inherently immoral—actually, I think the opposite.

History has shown us that when times go bad, so does behavior. Think of any war, or episode of the Walking Dead.

Conversely, time has shown us that advancements in technology — consider access to clean water, vaccines and internet— are what make people happier. This, in turn, expands our bandwidth for kindness.

When it comes to culture change, morality is icing on the cake. Technology is the meat.

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