Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods, and the Need for Brand Promise

In its recent earnings call, Beyond Meat, the brand of plant-based burgers, “meatballs”, “ground beef” and sausages, announced that its third-quarter sales forecast would be somewhat gloomy. Executives reported lower revenues suggesting that the company’s success might be cooling off the grill.

Beyond Meat reported that its guarded outlook is due to “… losses of distribution and operator challenges due to labor issues.” Additionally, there are growth, expansion expenses such as increased hiring, marketing, freight and legal. Beyond Meat’s CEO stated that he is optimistic about the future. But, the company is wary of being too upbeat as Covid-19 waves could once again impact negatively.

Aside from its growth plan costs along with current and potential disruptions, there is the problem with Beyond Meat’s brand. Beyond Meat is not articulating a differentiating, compelling message to consumers. Its message is almost identical to that of its main competitor, Impossible Foods.

In the beginning, Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods actually had two different messages about the future of food. Beyond Meat’s proposition was focused on its closeness to nature. Beyond Meat focused on the purity and simplicity of simple, raw, protein-rich, non-GMO ingredients as the better way to the future. Beyond Meat’s ingredients were ones that we could recognize. And, this is still its position. Basic cooking techniques using plant-based ingredients with no antibiotics, no cholesterol and no hormones.

Impossible Foods emphasized a scientific, lab-based approach.  The brand touted its signature element Heme – this is what makes the burger “bleed” and taste like beef. As described on the Impossible Foods website, “Heme is what makes meat taste like meat. It’s an essential molecule found in every living plant and animal — most abundantly in animals — and something we’ve been eating and craving since the dawn of humanity. Here at Impossible Foods, our plant-based heme is made via fermentation of genetically engineered yeast, and safety-verified by America’s top food-safety experts and peer-reviewed academic journals.”  

Impossible Foods CEO, Patrick Brown stated: “Start with the hard fundamental research required to understand the basic principles and molecular mechanisms responsible for the flavors, aromas, textures and juiciness that make meat delicious and craveable; then, discover scaleable plant sources of the specific proteins and other nutrients required to reproduce the magic of meat.”

Originally, the two brands relevant differentiation were Made by Chemists or Made by Nature; Food Science or Food Authenticity, Scrumptious by Science or Scrumptious by Simplicity.

But now, both brands’ websites offer the same message. Beyond Meat states that the shift to plant-based choices will have a positive impact not just on our health but on the welfare of animals and the wholeness of the planet. The reason for buying Beyond Meat product is that innovation and simple non-GMO ingredients combine to make delicious, protein-based products. And, these delicious products are produced in a sustainable. Beyond Meat’s message stresses the naturalness of its offerings and the nature-forward approach to production. 

Impossible Foods’ website also touts the sustainability and naturalness of its products. The brand asks us to be good to our taste buds and the planet. The ingredients are also ones that we recognize. As with Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods stresses its nature-forward manufacturing.

Both brands not only have the same message.  Both brands have a rather generic message. Many plant-based food brands have messages about “better for you-better for the planet”. Kite Hill, producer of non-dairy alternatives, has a similar proposition, while stressing its innovative “blue-sky” approach to making new products.

A brand is a promise of a relevant, differentiated experience. Without a relevant, differentiated brand experience, you have a product not a brand. 

A brand promise summarizes the special contract that exists between a brand and its customers. It describes what the brand is intended to stand for in the mind of a specific group of customers and/or prospective customers. By consistently living up to and consistently delivering the brand promise, a brand will be relevant and distinctive. A brand promise is something that a brand continuously strives to achieve. It is a future-focused description because it states what the brand will do for its customers.

A brand promise is multi-dimensional. It defines the brand. It defines the parameters for all development, communications, innovation and renovation on behalf of the brand. It must be a motivating, relevant, differentiated description of the brand experience that you want the brand to deliver. The brand experience is the consistent, trustworthy delivery of the brand’s functional, emotional and social benefits relative to its costs (money, time and effort).

Consistently living up to the promise of its experience is the way customers perceive the brand’s quality.  

A brand promise defines the total brand experience.  

Beyond Meat can address its logistical, labor and legal issues. The enterprise can put more money into marketing. But, both Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods will need to relevantly differentiate themselves within the marketplace. Both brands must figure out just what makes them special and important to customers. 

Now that the retail landscape has changed due to the pandemic – with delivery of groceries more ingrained than ever – these two brands must develop and then communicate what it is that makes the different and relevant from each other and in the minds’ of customers.

Want to learn more? Navigate how to satisfy conflicting needs, and look beyond single-minded solutions with the insights and guidance in The Paradox Planet.