The First Drop: Sausage and Tea, Seth Goldman’s Impossible Life

Morning in Bethesda. Afternoon in El Segundo. It’s a hell of a commute, but regardless, it’s pretty good to be Seth Goldman these days.

That’s because, try even as the most hard-core carnivore might, it’s hard not to buy into the world-changing vibe at Beyond Meat. A visit with Goldman, the organic tea crusader who is currently the company’s board chair, finds him excitedly pointing out the massive expansion that’s about to take place. He walked us through a new R & D facility into the vegan “meat” company’s business office, giving it nearly 30,000 square feet for experimentation as part of the company’s growth. Meanwhile, half a country away in Columbia, Missouri, the brand’s key production house is itself quadrupling in size.

You can’t fault the optimism: sales are through the roof. Whether it’s an ongoing change in consumer habits, massive media buzz, or just plain good products, Beyond Meat– and to a lesser extent, clean burger maker Impossible Foods – are penetrating the consciousness of consumers, and taking up space in both butcher counters and menus across the country. Plant-based is the zeitgeist, and the retailers are on board.

The momentum is palpable. Neither Goldman, whose run at Honest Tea helped break down the door for a new group of business-savvy food entrepreneurs to follow the trail of their hippie predecessors, nor Chuck Muth, the Beyond Meat sales chief who left a brief post-Honest Tea retirement to join his once-and-future-boss in Southern California, has ever been on a roll like this.

“We outsold beef!” Muth cackled to me about a particular 100-unit grocery region where the company’s signature Beyond Burger has dug in particularly well. It’s the Tuesday before Natural Products Expo West and Goldman has invited me in to try Beyond Sausage, the latest pea-protein/potato/coconut oil concoction from the Beyond Meat laboratory. They bring out a plate of the stuff, grilled in their demonstration kitchen, and we dig in – there’s a Bratwurst, a hot Italian, and a Sweet – and along with the mix, they’ve developed an algae-based casing that gives it some of the snap you’d get from your standard sausage casing, minus the animal that said casing was once a part of.

As I’ve long held it a point of pride that I’ve both made my own sausage and grilled many, many more, it pains me to say that the Beyond Sausages taste accurate – they taste good – albeit a little shy on the grease. There’s a salt/fat/spice/smoke ratio that keeps me wanting to plow through them, although I know I’m not dishing out the nine bucks it’ll cost for a four-pack in the store.

There’s a rub there: that’s about twice as much as a similar upscale pork or turkey four-pack would cost you. But as with organics, you’re paying a premium to know that you’re doing the world a solid, and honestly, you aren’t missing out on much. A key test point for anyone who has plowed through links in the past is that they taste better as they cool, and to my surprise the plant-based ones held up on that front, as well.

It’s not organic certified, like Honest Tea, but, Goldman says gleefully, “we are changing behaviors.”

Call it a lightning bolt that’s only sizzling the crops instead of the livestock; call it a nonviolent hockey stick, but revenue keeps doubling on itself, and there’s an internal betting pool on just how much past 100 percent growth it will show this year – at a time when the base has grown much, much broader. It’s got Kroger, Whole Foods Market, TGI Friday’s and more serving up burgers, and a quiet test run at a pair of Veggie Grills in Southern California yielded the sale of 900 Beyond Sausages in four days. Muth is so energized that he went “full California” and leased a Tesla, with the license plate BYMT.

You never knew it was this easy. You’d be kind of angry, knowing this, but you eat more vegan sausage and bury your angst in mustard. Honest Tea has, after close to a decade under Coke’s guidance, hit about $225 million in sales. It was a harbinger of changing times and changing consciousness, both in terms of consumers and companies alike.

Now, the wave is stronger. There’s almost a sense, with Beyond Meat, that it’s the product flowing through them, rather than them working to generate the demand. That’s a different paradigm for this hardened sales team.

It’s enough to make you lease a Tesla.