On her 50th birthday, Seth Goldman’s wife, Julie Farkas, was reading the Washington Post business section when she came across a story about a new company called Beyond Meat. The company was seeking to replicate the taste and mouthfeel of meat with vegan products that would have a positive impact on consumers, suppliers and the environment. Bells went off for Goldman. If this company could succeed, this could be the best 50th birthday present ever for his vegetarian wife, and so much more!
So, Goldman—who thinks it’s “always fun” to help build a business, conquer the challenges and stay true to its mission—decided to check out Beyond Meat. He went to the company’s website and sent off an email. Fast forward a few years, and today, he is executive chairman of the company’s Board of Directors, focusing on strategic growth and building key relationship with investors and customers—investors that include Bill Gates, by the way.
Goldman has lots of experience building a mission-driven business as the co-founder, former CEO and current TeaEO Emeritus of Bethesda-based Honest Tea. What began in 1997 with batches of real tea brewed in his kitchen has grown into an independent business unit of The Coca-Cola Company (since 2011) with its fair-trade and many organic products found in more than 100,000 stores across the US.
Honest Tea was established and operated with a passion for health, the environment and social responsibility. In Beyond Meat, Goldman has found the same ingredients.
The California-based company and Goldman share ideals as well as a passion for innovation. As a recent press release says, “Beyond Meat is redefining the future of protein, and it is plant based.” Beyond Meat products are made from the protein components naturally found in plants. By extracting the protein directly from the plant, instead of having the plant “processed” by a cow, less water, energy and land is used and no greenhouse gases are released. The product has the potential to have a positive impact on local communities and emerging economies, and in the end, Goldman points out, more people can be fed because there just aren’t enough resources to feed the world on animal protein.
“It’s all still in the early innings of growth,” he says, but the goal is for Beyond Meat to be welcomed not only by the vegetarian and vegan communities, but also by a much wider audience of flexitarians, people he hopes will embrace the products as a way to eat at least one more plant-based meal each week.
In order to make this happen, Goldman says, Beyond Meat has been working on the texture, flavor and other sensory elements of plant-based protein. “If people want burgers on the grill, we have to deliver that complete sensory satisfaction.” It also means striving to place Beyond Meat products in existing meat sections of stores, which Goldman and others would like to see re-imagined as the “protein section” to reflect and encourage changes in modern diets. “We’d love to see people able to buy cow protein, chicken protein and plant protein all from the same counter.”
Goldman’s beliefs and passion carry on throughout his life. He and Farkas changed their diets to vegetarian a decade ago in support of their oldest son Jonah, whose bar mitzvah Torah portion, Re’eh, included laws for slaughtering animals for food and sacrifice as well as the use of the blood in sacrifices. Jonah’s teachings on his portion helped convince the rest of the family to join him as a vegetarian. The family has since pursued vegetarian eating at home and while traveling, such as some memorable meals while on a photo safari in South Africa last year.
There is also the book, Mission in a Bottle, which Goldman co-wrote with Honest Tea co-founder Barry Nalebuff, his former business school professor. “It’s a great way for us to give advice since we aren’t able to talk to everyone individually,” Goldman says. “It’s a playbook for a food business especially and really any business or believer…because it’s a lonely journey and challenging to be an entrepreneur.”
Goldman connects to all of his pursuits as an activist and also through his Judaism. Citing the line from Torah “Justice, justice shall you pursue,” Goldman believes that “justice” is said twice because it’s not enough just to pursue justice, but that the way in which you pursue it should be just, too. To Goldman, this means that “our business impact should be judged in its entirety from our operations to our products.”
His connections to Judaism were fostered with rituals like Friday night Shabbat dinner with his family growing up in Wellesley, Massachusetts, where his parents were both professors. “Our chicken soup was often Campbell’s or Lipton’s,” he says laughing, “but there was good spirit. We lit candles, sang songs and I didn’t go out on Friday nights.” Today, he believes that his Jewish identity both informs and is expressed in his world of activism. It’s not surprising to him that there are many other activist food entrepreneurs with Jewish origins including the founders of Ben & Jerry’s.
Goldman uses words like “transformational” when talking about the impact on organic supplier communities and “democratizing organics” when describing Honest Tea products that are now available in fast-food restaurants like Wendy’s and Chik-fil-A. “People don’t go to these restaurants for organic food,” he points out, “but it’s there on the menu so children can have an Honest Kids drink.”
“Eating is one of the few practices that happens three times a day,” Goldman reflects, “and with each occasion you have a chance to choose if it’s a conscious practice.” For this innovative entrepreneur, being responsible for the impact of diet on our health, our communities, food suppliers and the environment is tikkun olam, ways to repair the world while feeding his soul at the same time.
Top photo: Beyond Meat’s classic chicken salad