The alternative protein startup Beyond Meat has attracted investment from Tyson Foods, the largest meat processor in the US, for its Series F round of funding. The size of the round was not disclosed, but it also attracted investment from the Humane Society of the United States, and General Mills’ venture arm, according to an article in the New York Times.
Beyond Meat manufactures a range of animal-free meat products using pea protein and soybean, with the aim of mimicking the taste and experiences consumers have cooking and eating meat.
Tyson’s investment comes just a couple of weeks after an investor coalition worth over $1.2 trillion put pressure on some leading food companies to incorporate more plant-based meat alternatives into their supply chains and consumer products.
Tyson is not being targeted by this coalition but is no stranger to investor pressure; in 2015 a different investor coalition called on it and others to improve its water management, and in August this year some shareholders filed a complaint that the company wasn’t following strict enough ESG practices. These shareholder resolutions referenced animal welfare and water pollution, among other factors, and the Humane Society coincidentally sponsored the animal welfare section.
Michele Simon, executive director of the Plant-Based Foods Association, suggested in the Times article that Tyson could be trying to “distract attention from their industrial meat business.” The business hit the news in August when a video was released of workers mistreating chickens.
A Tyson Foods spokesman told AgFunderNews that the deal was in the works “a number of months” before the shareholder resolution and video leak came to light.
“There is increased demand for all kinds of protein and this is one way for us to meet that demand,” said Worth Sparkman, corporate affairs at Tyson. “Our investment is not based on who else is investing, it’s about providing consumers more options.”
Ethan Brown, founder of Beyond Meats, told the Times he hoped that this is one of several steps the food industry will take to bring alternative proteins into the mainstream and out of the “penalty box” of the alternatives section in the supermarket.
While there’s no plan to integrate Beyond Meat’s production or distribution with Tyson’s, a Tyson representative told the Times that the relationship could develop over time. She also said that the company see Beyond Meat product as complementary and not replacements to animal-based meat.
“The investment for us is not about an either-or choice, it’s about the ‘and,’” said Monica McGurk, senior vice president of Tyson. “This is just another form for consumers to enjoy protein as part of their daily diet.”
Tyson and other investors believe that Beyond Meat’s latest product, the Beyond Burger that it started selling in Whole Foods earlier this year, is a “game-changing” product. “The quality of the burger is amazing,” said Tyson’s McGurk in the Times article.
This latest round comes around a year after Bill Gates-backed Beyond Meat raised at least $17 million in Series E funding, including investment from New Crop Capital, the plant-based food alternatives focused investment fund. Other investors in Beyond Meat are Closed Loop Capital, Innovative Fund, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Obvious Ventures, and S2G Ventures.
While total fundraising information was not attainable, it’s understood Beyond Meat has raised a fair bit less than its main competitor Impossible Foods, which has raised a total of $183 million; it’s latest was a $108 million Series D last year. This latest round for Beyond Meat was an up-round for existing investors but still values the company at less than Impossible Foods, according to sources.
Beyond Meat would not respond to requests for comment.