The CEO and Founder of Beyond Meat, Ethan Brown is also a philanthropist and father, husband, and mentor., but the world knows him as the person most to thank for giving us delicious burgers and sausages that taste just like–or even better–than the real thing.  Brown sat down with The Beet columnist Elysabeth Alfano, host of the Awesome Vegans Influencer Series, to talk about how COVID-19 changed everything and what he's cooking up next. (We suspect you can smell it from the next room.)

Since the company's IPO in May of 2019 the Beyond Meat stock has been on a headline-making rollercoaster, first down, then up, and now soaring 50 percent above its initial offering. As consumers began questioning the safety of the meat supply during the pandemic, demand for Beyond Meat soared, as did its stock price, which climbed into the triple digits in early May and has hovered above $150 through June, triple its low of $54 and change.

Brown never seemed to sweat. Through all this his focus has been intensely trained on the future of food, and how to innovate everything from protein sources to texture to color and smell, and create products that so closely mimick the real thing that consumers will never miss their old burger or sausage habits.

To hear Brown talk about it, the future of food will save the planet, help prevent disease, and be kinder to animals, so it's a triple win. Beyond is now distributed in China and Europe and most of the recognized supermarkets and chains in the US. Beyond Meat offerings can be found at Duunkinm, Subway, Carl’s Jr., Del Taco, and Starbucks, to name a few. The company originally launched with plant-based chicken strips and then moved into plant-based burgers, first with the Beyond Meat Burger 1.0, then improving on the formula. Brown quickly pushed forward for a better Burger 2.0 and subsequently added Beyond Meat sausages.

With his engineering background and drive, one would think that Brown would be relatively unapproachable. Nothing could be further from the truth; he loves nothing more than to cook up some meatless sausages for guests wearing n jeans and a t-shirt, as he did for me, even before they went to market last year.

Brown is determined to change the way people eat and think about protein sources, for their health, the environment, and animals. Here is his take on how eating healthy is big business.

EA for The Beet: Do You Eat Beyond Chicken for Breakfast?

EB: I’m very focused on, Will my diet sustain me throughout the day?  You can see marked differences in your productivity based on the food you eat, right? So, if you have a carb-heavy breakfast, for example, you just don't perform as well, right? For many years, I just had our chicken strips for breakfast because I really wanted that core protein and that feeling of alertness that you get when you have a higher level of protein in the morning.

"When people are interviewing with me, I always say, approach the day like it’s a game. Have you gotten your rest? Have you eaten properly? So you can get through and be intense throughout the workday. I always try to give that advice to people because that’s all we’ve got –is our time. And so [I say] build your day around functioning at as high a level as possible.

EA for The Beet: I love this. That we should organize our day like an athlete does, that we would all think about our performance, throughout the day.

EB: "Yeah, in fact, we have a whole group of athletes out there promoting the fact that they’re performing better on plant-based protein.

EA for The Beet: And what is the future of food? Is Plant-Based Eating Inevitable?

EB: "I don’t think that we’re going to go to a diet where we’re consuming just plants and vegetables in their native form. (However,) I think that we can absolutely shift that meat consumption from animal-based meat to plant-based meat and I think that will happen. I think it’s almost inevitable.

"I came out of the alternative energy sector where the company I was with spent a billion dollars developing fuel cells. That’s an important solution: Creating emission-free vehicles. But what if you create a more sustainable source of meat for the standard plate. How big would that be? So why not spend a billion? Why not spend ten million dollars doing that?"

EA for The Beet: Do you have any pets?

EB: We have turtles, a tortoise, a pig. In fact, my pig is on my (Beyond Meat) shirt with a “W” for Wilbur.

EA for The Beet: The pig on the Beyond Meat shirt is for your pig?

EB: I begged the kids not to name him Wilbur. Please don’t name him Wilbur. Every pig is named Wilbur. But Wilbur it is!

EA for The Beet: Do you think they are any different than farm animals?

EB: No and that’s the thing, one of the motivating factors that got me into this business was my Dad’s a professor and that gives him some time on the weekends to do things. He grew up in the country and we grew up in the country because he wanted us to have that experience. So, we bought a farm in the Western part of the state. I would be up there on the weekends and during the summers and I would just think in my mind about the difference between the two. (The farm animals) were treated fine, but I would think about the difference between the cows in the barn, or any animal, and the ones that were sleeping in my bed. I didn’t understand it at the time, but as I grew older and particularly as I read Darwin: his whole point is that there are only variations and small degrees of difference. So, there is no difference that would justify different treatment, right? And that I think is a scientific fact and one that our ethics have yet to catch up with.

In an interview with Brown last spring on Good Food Podcast hosted by Evan Kleiman, Alfano did an in-depth interview with Brown as she visited the El Segundo, California Beyond Meat factory, where she asked Brown what was on the horizon for  Beyond Meat:

EA: What's Next? Steak and Bacon?

EB: "Bacon is of particular interest to me, because of the delicious nature of it, plus the fact that I have a pet pig. Let’s resolve this issue!’”

EA for The Beet: What do you wish you knew 10 years ago that you know now. 

EB: Don't live small. On an everyday basis. I knew this but I didn't act on it every day. So on an everyday basis, just be who you are and don't live small.

EA for The Beet: What do you want to be known for?

EB: I would love for the company to be known as a group of people that separated beef from animals.

For the full interview, click here. To watch other interviews from the Awesome Vegans Influencer Series with Elysabeth Alfano, click here. 

Elysabeth Alfano is a plant-based expert for mainstream media, covering the plant-based health, food, business, and environmental news for the general public.

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