Beyond Meat pushes ahead with Chinese expansion despite pandemic

Business

Ethan Brown, founder, president and CEO of Beyond Meat.

Adam Jeffery | CNBC

As Beyond Meat plans a major push into the Chinese market, the company isn’t letting the coronavirus pandemic slow down its expansion.

“When you see an obstacle like Covid, you don’t say you’re not going to do it, you say ‘How am I going to do it?’ and work on a solution,” CEO Ethan Brown said in an interview.

Beyond announced on Tuesday that it’s building up its presence in mainland China with two manufacturing facilities near Shanghai that will run full-scale production by early next year. Beyond and rival Impossible Foods have both targeted China as a top market for growth, considering its massive population and appetite for meat. The maker of the Beyond Sausage first launched in mainland China through a partnership with Starbucks in April, just as the country’s strict lockdown measures were loosening. 

Working with Beyond’s Chinese team during the pandemic required “a lot of Zoom, a lot of WhatsApp,” according to Brown. He and other U.S.-based employees couldn’t be there in person, but they got a helping hand from Micky Pant, the former CEO of Yum China who now serves as a senior advisor to Beyond.

Brown said that the company’s research and development team in Shanghai is also hard at work tweaking its products to suit the tastes of Chinese consumers. 

“I will work very hard to make sure that we’re not exporting American taste,” he said.

Shares of Beyond closed Wednesday up 2.75% at $138.17. The stock, which has a market value of $8.65 billion, has soared 83% so far this year and 453% since its initial public offering more than a year ago. But Brown said that he doesn’t pay much attention to the market’s reactions. 

“It’s been a huge win for us, but I just don’t focus on it as much as people might think,” he said.

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