Last week I was invited to participate on a panel with the CEOs of Beyond Meat and PRE Brands at Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, an annual trade show in the natural, organic and healthy products industry, bringing together over 80,000 industry professionals and 3,100 exhibits.
The panel was called What's Your Beef? Consumer-Driven Innovations in Meat and our moderator, Anubhav Goel, led us through a lively discussion of each company's unique approach to disrupting the existing, established commodity protein markets and better addressing unmet consumer needs.
Each panelist was asked to share the one thing they'd like everyone to take away from the discussion. Here, I'll share and expand on my answer.
Beef is not a commodity.
When we started this journey three years ago, we set out to find the best beef -- craft beef produced by independent and family-run farms -- and to make it accessible to everyone. We wanted to help farmers doing it right receive due credit and attention for their hard work, and to help them reach more customers.
What we didn't understand immediately, but in retrospect is now so obvious, is that there's much more to beef than what a stroll through the grocery store meat aisle can tell you.
If you're standing at the meat counter, or perusing styrofoam packages of steaks, the only information really available to you is the name of the cut (there are about 7 to choose from), perhaps a differentiating label like "grass-fed" or "Organic", and a price per pound. As happens with all labels and standards, claims like "grass-fed" mean way less than they used to. They've been watered down. The person behind the meat counter can't tell you what country -- much less what farm -- the meat comes from, and the packaging isn't legally required to say anything about the origin. You want to know the breed of the cow? The values and priorities of the farmer who raised it? Whether that grass in "grass-fed" was manufactured grass pellets at a feedlot, or peak-of-season standing forages? Tough.
What we've discovered is that beef is a wide and delicious world full of interesting breeds, regenerative practices, family traditions, and cooking methods that's way more varied than the identical rows of crimson steaks in the grocery store would have you believe.
And so very delicious.