Beyond Meat And Its Trust Deficit

On August 8, 2023, Beyond Meat, the company that makes plant-based meat alternatives, tanked. Reporting its second quarter performance, Beyond Meat missed analysts’ expectations. Beyond Meat’s revenue for second quarter was down 30.5% compared to the same quarter in 2022. Many analysts have lost enthusiasm for Beyond Meat with four analyst groups listing Beyond Meat as “Sell” and four listing Beyond Meat as “Hold.”

The poor performance is not a surprise. Almost a year ago, in September 2022, The Wall Street Journal ran an opinion piece “Beyond Meat is Beyond Hope”. The author stated that Beyond Meat’s problem is that there are just too few people who will eat its products. The writer pointed out that the pool of vegetarians and vegans is too small for profitability. Only 5% of Americans say they are vegetarian while 3% identify as vegan. 

However, as The Guardian pointed out, the non-dairy milk category is booming. At the time, The guardian wrote: “Dairy alternatives now make up 15% of the market and are worth $2.5 billion. A third of Americans drink some kind of non-dairy milk weekly.” The prospective people are out there: just give them relevant, differentiated reasons to buy.

There is a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking stating that plant-base food is a fad. On the other hand, there is a significant lobby believing that plant-based protein is a more sustainable, more innovative food system with a lot of growth potential.

Underlying Beyond Meat’s laggard performance is this: Beyond Meat has a trust deficit. Customers and prospective customers are concerned about how the product is made. Beyond Meat products are perceived to be too processed. And, for vegans, vegetarians and organic eaters, processed is a dirty word. Trust is an essential element for a brand.

There are many reasons why Beyond Meat has a trust deficit. Beyond Meat did not appear to build a compelling, relevant, differentiated brand.  Rather, Beyond Meat always seemed to be a company with innovations. Beyond Meat never seemed to communicate its benefits to customers and prospective customers. Beyond Meat products have been and still are priced at a premium to animal proteins. And, these are just a few reasons.

Now, Beyond Meat wants customers and prospective customers to perceive Beyond Meat plant-based products as trustworthy. Beyond Meat wants people to believe that Beyond Meat products are OK to eat; not processed, but created. Beyond Meat is running a communications campaign to address its trustworthiness as a food stuff. But, again, at the moment, there is no discussion of the total brand experience; no addressing of Beyond Meat’s functional, emotional and personal social benefits.

Beyond Meat has a mission. Founder and CEO Ethan Brown stated this at the earning call:

 “As we look to the future, we remain steadfast in our belief that plant-based meat, and Beyond Meat specifically, will play an important part of the global response to a climate crisis that appears to be rapidly intensifying, while also delivering health benefits to the individual consumer.”

Beyond Meat’s mission is laudable. However there are complications. A research study cited in The Guardian shows that even when people learn that huge reductions in meat consumption are essential for climate-change avoidance, people are reluctant to change behaviors when the environment is “the sole beneficiary”. Self-interest overcomes altruism. A different study from Purdue University shows that even when confronted with information about meat’s carbon footprint, people still prefer meat over plant-based alternatives

A food analyst at Mintel, a global market research company, said, “Awareness of the impact of meat on climate change is expected to underpin long-term demand, although products featuring more natural vegetable and vegetarian proteins, such as chickpeas and lentils, were likely to lead growth as consumers sought more transparency and reassurance about the origins of ingredients in vegan ready meals.”

According to the press, Beyond Meat has a marketing campaign with the title, There’s Goodness Here.” This Beyond Meat campaign aims to “demystify” the way in which Beyond Meat’s products are created. For example, did you know that The American Heart Association certified Beyond Meat’s Beyond Steak as a heart-healthy food? Did you know that Beyond Meat’s products are labeled 35% less saturated fat?

One online source describes the ad campaign as follows:

“In the first phase of the campaign, consumers visit Munich, North Dakota to meet a 5th generation farmer and father who grows fava beans for Beyond Meat’s plant-based heart-healthy steak, which was recently certified by the American Heart Association for meeting its exacting nutrition requirements. Fava beans, which naturally enrich the soil with nitrogen, can enable healthier fields without the use of harmful and expensive fertilizers. This benefits farmers, consumers and our big beautiful planet. In addition to fava beans, Beyond Meat sources clean, simple, non-GMO plant-based ingredients like peas, rice and wheat. This farmer’s story and others like it underpin the goodness that is the beginning of Beyond Meat’s product journey which uses wholesome plant-based ingredients and a simple and clean process to create nutritious food options that are also environmentally friendly and kind to animals.”

This idea of taking people behind the scenes is good. It is one of the critical steps necessary to build trust. Openness Is an Opportunity 

Transparency is a key to trust. Transparency requires truth. Truth is not the same as trust. Truth is a fact,; trust is a feeling. To build your brand into a trustmark, you need both truth and trust. To be worthy of a customer’s trust, people need to see the truth and not just read about the truth. By taking customers behind the scenes, Beyond Meat is telling customers, “We have nothing to hide.” “See for yourself.”

In our fast-information-access, knowledge-sharing world, transparency is important. Increased emphasis on transparency affects trustworthiness. It is only a matter of time before the public discovers the facts about any issue. There are no secrets. There is nowhere to hide. Beyond Meat has discovered that people actually do read the labels. And, what the Beyond Meat labels indicate is more process and less made-by-nature.

By relying on a family farm to deliver a message, Beyond Meat is opting for a more convincing messenger. It is easy to rely on traditional advertising to tell someone what a brand stands for. It is more convincing when others tell the story on the brand’s behalf. And it is even more convincing when people can learn the truth for themselves. 

However, there are other essential steps to build trust. Beyond Meat must not simply hang its hat on openness. Beyond Meat must invest in the following trust-building efforts.

You Are What You Do 

Beyond Meat must display trust before Beyond Meat can declare it. Customers must consider Beyond Meat worthy of trust before they commit to trusting it. Saying, “trust me” does not track with today’s customers. 

Beyond Meat must provide iconic tangible, visible evidence that what Beyond Meat claims can be trusted. Iconic products or services are tangible demonstrations of the truth of Beyond Meat’s claim. Labels matter. Looks matter. 

Part of its new campaign is a demonstration of Beyond Meat’s tangible evidence of its “goodness.” Beyond Meat will need more than advertising to showcase its evidence.

Trust is the confidence that a brand will live up to expectations. This means that the promised expectation of the brand can be relied upon. 

Lead the Debate; Do Not Hide from It 

Staying silent when there are big issues at stake is not a signal of leadership. Silence means agreement, and trust is too important for silence. Leaders stand up for what they believe in. 

Beyond Meat stayed silent on the issue of “processing” even when the cattle industry came after Beyond Meat with very easy-to-grasp messages. Getting ahead of the issues is critical. Beyond Meat failed to do so.

For example, years ago, Domino’s could have taken a defensive position when customers complained about the quality and taste of their pizza. Instead, the brand agreed that its offerings were below par and told us so in national television advertising. 

If you are in the food business and you are selling food people think is questionable, fix it. Going on the defensive is the wrong approach. For a brand to be taken seriously, a defensive posture implies that you have something to hide. When you are silent or when you hide, others can create the truths about you. Others, such as the cattle industry, will recast your profile. A brand will have a reputation. The only question is who will have the strongest voice in managing that reputation. It is not in a brand’s interests to let outsiders trample on a brand’s truths. 

Rather than hide from an issue, lead the debate. Take positive action. Tell your story. When you tell your story you win. When you are silent, you lose. Trust leadership is more than just standing out. It requires speaking out. In revitalizing a brand, it is necessary to speak up for your brand if you want your brand to stand out. 

Trustworthy Messages Must Come from a Trustworthy Source 

How you say things is as important as what you say, especially in a world where conversations occur online digitally and through blogs, apps and with a limited number of characters. 

Just as peer testimony is more trustworthy than corporate testimony, the voice of the customer is more trusted than a corporate voice. So, it is helpful that Beyond Meat is showing customers and farmers.

Beyond Meat will also rely on health organizations to deliver the “goodness” message. In a polarized society this may be an iffy approach. True, Beyond Meat’s products are recognized by the American Heart Association, which certified Beyond Steak as a heart-healthy food. Additionally, Beyond Meat will rely on a clinical study from Stanford University (The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition). The study looked at the benefits of replacing animal-based meat with Beyond Meat’s plant-based meat over an 8-week period.  Results showed improvement in key health metrics when participants replaced animal-based meat with Based on the positive outcomes of the study, Beyond Meat created the Plant-Based Diet Initiative at the Stanford University School of Medicine. Beyond Meat also has an agreement with the American Cancer Society to advance research on plant-based meat and cancer prevention.

Providing trustworthy information is critical. The challenge is to become a trustworthy source of information that is helpful, convenient, understandable, and valuable to your customers. Become an open source of information that is understandable, accessible, timely, and trustworthy. 

Beyond Meat has a trust deficit. This trust deficit was self-created. At Beyond Meat, there seemed to be a sense that people would overlook the product-generation because the idea of plant-based meats was so enticing. Consumers are not like that anymore. “Trust me, this is good for you and sustainable” is not a viable message.

Beyond Meat must build trust. Brands live and breathe with trust. Without trust, brands have little value. If trust in the brand is high, then the brand has great value. But, if trust in the brand is low, then the brand has little value. If there is zero trust, there is zero value, as zero times anything is zero. Brand value leads to enduring profitable growth.