California-based Beyond Meat skyrocketed in first-day trading, chalking up one of the best market debuts in an IPO-heavy year.
The maker of plant-based beef and pork substitutes opened Thursday on the Nasdaq stock market at $46, after pricing its shares at $25. The stock closed at $65.75, a premium of 163 percent.
Beyond Meat represents a food version of alternative energy, with traditional meat companies such as Tyson Foods hedging its bets as consumer demand grows for more healthful, plant-based alternatives to meat protein. Beyond Meat generated nearly $88 million in revenue last year, more than twice its 2017 output, but it has yet to turn a profit. It has lost roughly $30 million in the past two years.
The company intends to use the more than $240 million raised in the IPO to invest in manufacturing, expand research and development, and bolster marketing.
“From the Wall Street standpoint, it’s all about this really fast growth that is going to translate to strong profitability in the next several years,” said Kathleen Smith, a principal at Renaissance Capital. She attributed the robust demand for the stock to the disruptive nature of the company’s focused product line and the advantage of going public before any other competitor.
The Beyond Meat Burger debuted in October 2016 in the meat section at 51 Whole Foods Markets stretching from Pennsylvania to Ohio, south to Kentucky and east to Maryland and the District of Columbia. Founded by Washington-area native Ethan Brown, the company has such big name-investors as Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Seth Goldman, the creator of Honest Tea and the executive chairman of Beyond Meat.
The products are targeted to both vegans and those trying to reduce their meat intake, giving the company a unique position within the $1.4 trillion meat industry. Pea protein is the main ingredient of Beyond Meat products, which are designed to replicate the taste and texture of animal-based foods.
“We are focused on continually improving our products so that they are, to the human sensory system, indistinguishable from their animal-based counterparts,” the company said in a recent filing with the U. S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Its foods are sold at about 30,000 locations, mostly in the United States and Canada.
The company says it is tapping into broader public awareness about personal health, animal welfare, climate change and environmental conservation. But its reliance on pea protein is seen as a risk factor. Beyond Meat depends on a limited number of raw material suppliers, according to the SEC filing, which could hurt the business if those partners’ operations are delayed or disrupted. Intense market competition, a failure to develop new products and to expand its list of customers are also included among Beyond Meat’s business risks.
Later this year, the world’s largest meat producer, Tyson, is expected to release a line of animal-free products. Beyond Meat also faces competition from other plant-based companies like Impossible Foods, which is partnering with Burger King, and those developing meat products from animal cells, like Memphis Meats.
Goldman, 53, the executive chairman of the Beyond Meat board of directors, owned a 2 percent stake in the company going into Thursday’s public offering. He is still involved in Honest Tea, which he sold to Coca Cola in 2011. “I bet on this really early,” he said, “when it was doing less than $1 million in annual sales.”
Goldman, whose family has been vegetarian for years, invested in the company in 2012 after his wife read an article about Beyond Meat.
“I sent an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, and I said I loved the idea of transforming the meat case into the plants protein case in the grocery,” he said.
Goldman, who lives in Chevy Chase, Md., said the company’s investors include a wide range of professional athletes, business people and celebrities: Twitter founders Biz Stone and Evan Williams; former McDonald’s chief executive Don Thompson; actor Leonardo DiCaprio; rapper-actor Snoop Dogg; NBA stars Kyrie Irving and Chris Paul; NFL wide receiver Deandre Hopkins; and free climber Alex Honnold, star of the Oscar-winning documentary “Free Solo.”
Goldman said guidance for sales for the first quarter of 2019 were around $40 million, triple the same quarter last year.
“We are entering into a commodity category, the largest in food, which is meat,” Goldman said. “We are bringing a proprietary branded offering to the largest category of food. It’s a category that hasn’t seen any innovation in decades.”