In what may be one of the most surprising investment announcements of any type — a man-bites-dog scenario in the business world — Tyson Foods, one of the world’s largest meat companies, has now become a significant investor in Beyond Meat (The HSUS has made investments in the company, too). The plant-based-meat company recently launched the Beyond Burger, with the taste and texture of meat. Tyson’s investment in Beyond Meat has startled people within the food industry, and it’s been widely reported by Stephanie Strom of the New York Times and also the Wall Street Journal and the meat industry trade publication, Meatingplace.
As I wrote in The Humane Economy, the path to progress for animals involves companies or government embracing some aspect of animal welfare – either by getting their feet wet or, in other cases, upending their business model and embracing it in full. Rarely do we see companies involved with animal cruelty or suffering just go belly up. It’s usually an evolution, a sort of incremental change, with companies recognizing the emerging sensibilities on animal welfare and health and adapting to the new consumer atmosphere. To wit: Walmart announces it will seek to embrace the Five Freedoms of farm animal welfare; the Environmental Protection Agency embraces alternatives to animal testing and uses animal as a last resort; airlines agree to stop transporting animal trophies from the Africa Big Five (elephant, rhino, leopard, lion, and Cape buffalo).
Tyson’s move is certainly not the first of its kind. Pinnacle, which owns the meat-centric brand Hungry Man, purchased the plant-based brand Gardein. Kraft, owner of Oscar Mayer, has also been responsible for growing the Boca line of plant-based proteins. ConAgra Foods — once of the country’s largest meatpackers — bought and built the LightLife brand of veggie meats. General Mills is investing in plant-based proteins. But Tyson is a big protein brand, synonymous with the meat industry, and a company that you’d hardly put on your prospect list if you’re a plant-based protein company looking for a multi-million-dollar investor.
For those concerned that Tyson wants to claim a growing stake in Beyond Meat just to kill it off, I’m confident that the leaders of Beyond Meat would never allow that, nor is there any evidence at this point that Tyson has that objective. And with this new partnership, the leaders of Beyond Meat can leverage Tyson’s knowledge to distribute and market its new Beyond Burger and other plant-based proteins that look and taste like meat. That’s a material advance for animals, since fewer of them may be raised for slaughter. Consumers will be better off eating healthier foods, businesses will see brisk sales of a range of products, and more animals will be spared the torments of the feedlot or slaughter plant.
As I mentioned, The HSUS is also an investor in Beyond Meat. With long-time adversaries like Tyson and The HSUS both putting money into the same company, you know that there’s an interesting business model in operation. The best is yet to come in the new, emerging humane economy, and the latest case example is the rather startling investment by Tyson in Beyond Meat.