The two most recognizable meatless meat brands have ignited a craze with their hugely popular Beyond Burger and Impossible Burger. But there’s another player in the meatless meat niche that’s offering more variety than an alternative to just beef.
Before the Butcher makes plant-based chicken, turkey and even chorizo.
Danny O’Malley, 56, founded the San Diego-based company in 2017, shortly after he left his job as a sales manager with Beyond Meat.
“Beyond Meat was still small at the time and we were trying to educate people and drum up sales for the products,” said O’Malley. “But I knew early on that this innovation was going to be explosive.”
O’Malley was eager to push the concept of plant-based meat even further.
“I was in a sales role and not in R&D. But I knew what the market wanted because I spoke with retailers and consumers all the time. Consumers were demanding more variety than just the meatless patties.”
In April 2018, Before the Butcher rolled out its UNCUT brand. “We went to market with [plant-based] chicken chunks, pulled pork, beef tips and a variety of ground beef and chorizo,” said O’Malley. Then came UNCUT’s meatless beef burger patty. And this year, it added chicken, turkey and breakfast sausage patties. In total, the brand now sells 12 different products.
A food industry veteran
Before O’Malley went into the food services business, he was an actor.
He majored in theater and drama at the University of California, Irvine, and, after graduating in 1985, spent a few years pursuing acting gigs in Los Angeles.
Like many young actors, he made ends meet by bartending and waiting tables. He eventually migrated into restaurant operations, and then into food marketing and distribution with Sysco.
One day, in 2014, he met with a representative from Beyond Meat who wanted to discuss distribution opportunities.
“I saw their products and at the end of the conversation, I was intrigued,” said O’Malley. “He also mentioned that Beyond Meat was looking for people to help with sales on the West Coast. He asked if I knew of anyone”
O’Malley, who was considering a career move, pitched himself and landed the job.
But three years in, O’Malley was itching to become involved with product innovation. In order to do so, he felt he needed to strike out on his own. So he left Beyond Meat in 2017 and started raising capital from angel investors.
“With my years of experience in the food industry I already had a lot of connections,” he said. (He declined to name the investors or the amount of capital raised.)
With the funding, O’Malley assembled a small team that included a production manager and food innovators who were familiar with plant-based proteins.
“My vision was to offer consumers variety beyond what my competitors had at the time, which was just the burger patties,” he said.
UNCUT products first hit stores in California, selling in the meat aisle of Bristol Farms grocery stores. The company has been expanding its distribution ever since and even turned a profit in its first year. O’Malley declined to disclose the company’s sales, however.
By the end of September, O’Malley hopes to be stocked in more than 2,000 grocery stores and on the menu of 3,000 restaurants nationwide.
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‘Plenty of room in the market’
In June, private investors Gregg and Jeff Hamann acquired a majority stake in Before the Butcher for an undisclosed amount. The investors also own ground meat producer Jensen Meat Company in San Diego.
“The company’s ace in the hole is that they’re starting with an entire family of plant-based burgers right out of the gate, including the market’s first plant-based chicken and turkey burger,” the investors said in an email to CNN Business.
“Consumers want variety. The challenge is that competitors like Beyond Burger and Impossible Burger got a head start, but it’s still early,” they said. “There’s plenty of room in the market, and there’s going to be more than one winner in this space.”
O’Malley, who remains part owner of the company, said the Hamann’s investment provides Before the Butcher with access to $25 million in capital, a 90,000 square-foot production facility in San Diego and the ability to scale the business faster to meet demand.
“It effectively turns us from a startup to a major player in the space,” said O’Malley.
US retail sales of plant-based foods have grown 11% in the past year and 31% over the past two years, according to a July report from trade group Plant Based Foods Association and the Good Food Institute — a nonprofit that supports plant-based businesses.
Barclays predicts the alternative meat sector could reach about $140 billion in sales over the next decade, capturing about 10% of the global meat industry.
“It is a nascent market but with very big growth potential. So even if a small innovator comes in and captures 1% to 2% of the market, it translates into billions of dollars,” said Nicolas Fereday, Food & AgriBusiness analyst RaboResearch, a research division of Dutch financial services firm RaboBank.
For O’Malley, Before the Butcher meets a personal goal.
“My oldest son struggled with weight issues. It was hard for me because I was always active and in good shape,” he said. He aspired to one day become involved in an endeavor that offered healthier eating choices for adults and children.
“I never let go of that vision,” he said. “I’m realizing it with Before the Butcher.”
Next year, he wants to introduce what he calls “value added” meatless offerings.
“We will combine plant-based proteins with sauces and added vegetables to create products that the consumer can heat up in a pan and pour over a starch like noodles or rice,” said O’Malley.
“We are, without doubt, just at the tip of the iceberg and moving down it very quickly,” he said.