Thoughts and prayers for Beyond Meat in this trying time. The plant-based burger replacement company is currently swimming in struggle sauce. Doug Ramsey, Beyond’s chief operating officer, has been suspended from the company after being arrested for allegedly biting a man’s nose in a brawl. Then there’s the food-disruptor’s deepening financial woes.
Ramsey reportedly got into a dispute while driving outside a college football game in Fayetteville, Arkansas. According to the police report, the Beyond exec was upset when another car tried to merge into his lane.
The police report claims that Ramsey exited his car, punched through the back windshield of the offending car, then—when the other driver exited their vehicle, Ramsey punched them multiple times. Finally, the report alleges that Ramsey also bit the other person’s nose, “ripping the flesh,” according to a report from the Associated Press. Yikes.
The COO has been charged with felony battery and making a terroristic threat, and he was released Sunday on a $11,085 bond.
Before he was heading up operations at Beyond Meat, Ramsey spent 30 years working for Tyson Foods, the poultry production giant, in various high-level roles. There is a Mike Tyson joke to be made here somewhere, but I just can’t put my (chicken) finger on it.
Ramsey’s alleged behavior is inexplicably aggro and frankly, disturbing. But perhaps this is just how the (terrifying) man responds to stress. Beyond Meat has lost more than 85% of its share value in the past 12 months, falling from about $112 to less than $17. For reference: shortly after the company went public in 2019, the stock peaked at nearly $235.
In a dismal quarterly earnings report last month, Beyond’s prospects looked additionally grim. The company revealed its revenue had fallen by 1.6% and that it had a net loss of $97 million—much larger than analysts expected, according to a report from The Associated Press. Amid the fiscal hardship, Beyond Meat announced layoffs of 4% of its workers worldwide.
In a shareholder call, Beyond’s president and CEO, Ethan Brown, attributed the poor quarterly showing to the current, overall high cost of food making consumers less likely to shell out for priced-at-a-premium fake meats. Yet Brown didn’t reference the fact that the requisite appetite for Beyond’s products might not be there, even when it’s a (relatively) cheap, fast meal.
Earlier in August, McDonalds ended its 6-month, 600 restaurant trial of Beyond’s McPlant burger in the U.S.. Note: the McPlant was still priced more than 65% higher than the comparable quarter pounder. The fast food chain was piloting the plant-based product to see how it would sell, and apparently found the answer to be “not very well.”
At some rural locations, customers ordered only 3-5 McPlants per day. Even in cities like San Francisco, sales of the sandwich were reportedly far lower than the goal. There’s been no news since on whether or not a follow-up U.S. trial is planned. However, the company still does have ongoing product pilots with KFC, and Panda Express.
And Beyond announced a new fast food partnership with Taco Bell on Wednesday. The company is testing out Beyond Carne Asada Steak at 50 Ohio locations of the chain. In contrast to the McPlant, the company said that the new product would be “offered at price parity to Taco Bell’s traditional steak to increase accessibility to plant-based products.”
But even Thinking Outside the Bun doesn’t seem to have set Beyond back on track. The faux-carne asada announcement only briefly sent stock prices up, before they began to fall again. As of writing, shares are hovering around the same price as they were at yesterday’s close.
Taken all together, it seems like the company could be headed for a full scale face-plant. Which is kind of a shame, considering the environmental consequences of the industry Beyond Meat is theoretically trying to subvert. Plant-based burgers (and other meat substitutes) are better for the climate than traditional cow-based beef. But Beyond might need a culture shift (and a new executive team) if the company is going to live up to its much-hyped potential.