Benzinga’s weekly Stock Wars matches two leaders in a major industry sector, with the goal of determining which company is the better investment.
This week, the duel is between a pair of companies in the vegan food sector: Beyond Meat Inc BYND and Tattooed Chef Inc TTCF
The Case For Beyond Meat: This El Segundo, California-based company was founded in 2009 and immediately attracted attention thanks to celebrity investors including Leonardo DiCaprio and Snoop Dogg. Its initial public offering in 2019 was priced at $25 per share and very quickly took off.
Earlier this year, the company formed a partnership with PepsiCo, Inc. PEP to develop snacks and drinks made from plant-based protein and it teamed up with McDonald’s Corporation MCD to develop a plant-based burger.
But its track record in becoming a staple of the grab-and-go dining crowd has been shaky: an effort to roll out plant-based chicken nuggets with Yum! Brands, Inc.'s YUM KFC chain never progressed beyond the pilot phase, while a plant-based breakfast-sausage sandwich offered through the Dunkin’ chain was scaled back from a national availability to a few hundred eateries due to lack of customer interest.
Earlier this month, Beyond Meat made its third attempt to introduce a plant-based chicken product, but its availability is targeted within independent restaurants and smaller regional chains.
On Tuesday, Panda Express said it would offer Beyond Meat’s Original Orange Chicken on a limited-time basis at select restaurants in New York City and Southern California.
The company has gone through a rough patch during the pandemic, with consecutive quarters of losses. A focus on getting products into the food service industry rather than concentrating on a grocery retail presence didn’t help, although Beyond Meat is making a renewed push to become more visible in supermarkets, most notably by getting its sausages and meatballs into thousands of Walmart Inc WMT stores this spring.
It has also had some strange publicity recently. In May, the company found supporters in the members of the Reddit forum WallStreetBets, who repeatedly talked up its viability, and it also attracted a prominent detractor in Jim Cramer, who posted a series of tweets that urged bears to exit their short positions in the company. And CEO Ethan Brown freely admitted to the Wall Street Journal earlier this month that making its vegan alternatives indistinguishable from animal protein is still a challenge for the company.
In its first-quarter earnings, Beyond Meat reported $108 million in revenues, up from $97 million one year earlier, but its gross profit was $32.7 million, down from $37.7 million in the previous year. Its net loss was $27.3 million, or 43 cents per common share and adjusted net loss was $26.2 million, or 42 cents per common share. The first-quarter adjusted EBITDA was a loss of $10.8 million, or -10% of net revenues.
The company also issued guidance for second-quarter forecasting net revenues in the range of $135 million to $150 million, an increase of 19% to 32% compared to second-quarter 2020.
Brown stated that Beyond Meat was “cautiously returning to the practice of issuing guidance, starting with net revenues, as we have recently begun to see a slow thaw occurring within food service both domestically and in certain international markets.”
At last check, Beyond Meat was trading at $127.97, which is somewhat closer to its 52-week low of $99.86 than its 52-week high of $221.00.
The Case For Tattooed Chef: This Paramount, California-headquartered company was founded in 2018 and was originally Itella International before it went public last October through a merger with the special purpose acquisition company, Forum Merger II Corporation.
Unlike Beyond Meat, Tattooed Chef is not offering plant-based alternatives to beef, chicken and port, nor is it seeking to become a presence on fast-food restaurant menus.
Instead, its line of ready-to-cook bowls, zucchini spirals, riced cauliflower, acai and smoothie bowls, and plant-based pizzas and cauliflower pizza crusts have been marketed in supermarket frozen food sections across the U.S.
On July 12, the company has announced that its products will be available in 1,800 Kroger Co KR stores nationwide later this summer. It had previously secured product placements at Target Corporation TGT in March and at Whole Foods, the supermarket subsidiary of Amazon.com, Inc. AMZN, in May.
Also in May, the company completed its $37 million acquisition of New Mexico Food Distributors Inc. and Karsten Tortilla Factory LLC, collectively referred to as Foods of New Mexico. One month earlier, the company sought to raise its brand awareness through its first national advertising campaign on television and digital media platforms.
In its first-quarter earnings report, Tattooed Chef saw $52.7 million in revenue, up from $33.2 million one year earlier — with an $18.4 million increase in Tattooed Chef-branded products and a $1.3 million increase in private label products and legacy products for select private label retailers.
The company’s first-quarter gross profit was $13.7 million, compared to $9.2 million in the previous year, and its net loss was $7.9 million, compared to $5.9 million in the same period in 2020, which the company attributed to increased operating expenses. Adjusted EBITDA loss was $3 million — it was a $7.4 million loss one year earlier, and the company offered guidance forecasting a full-year revenue range of $235 million to $242 million and an adjusted EBITDA in the range of $2 million to $4 million.
“We are revolutionizing plant-based eating with the Tattooed Chef brand by tapping into consumer preferences and constantly bringing new ideas to the market,” said Sarah Galletti, chief creative officer and the well-inked inspiration of the company’s name. “Our recent product launches in retail have been very successful and with the addition of our new manufacturing capabilities with the Foods of New Mexico acquisition, we have a pipeline of over 250 plant-based innovation ideas including ambient products and snacks.”
At last check, Tattooed Chef stock was trading at $19.54, sandwiched between its lowest ebb of $12.61 and its peak of $28.64.
The Verdict: The two companies are taking very different approaches to their marketplace. Beyond Meat is clearly on the riskier road in putting plant-based foods into fast-food environments that have traditionally not been the favored grazing spots of vegans. Putting an increased focus on getting into grocery retailers should help ratchet up the revenue stream.
Tattooed Chef is playing it safer by not trying to reinvent the hamburger and by completely avoiding the food service sector in favor of grocery retailing; Beyond Meat admitted pandemic-era problems with the food service world has hurt its recent financial performance.
Tattooed Chef’s track record is, admittedly, a work in progress, and its stock could be rocking with more force thanks to a flurry of positive news developments. As a vegan food company, it appears to be heading in the right direction, especially with Galletti’s comments on a massive pipeline of potential new products and its pursuit of private label endeavors, which will certainly endear it with major grocery retailers who want to add more vegan choices to their private label line-ups.
Beyond Meat made a P.R. mistake with Brown’s Wall Street Journal interview. He showed a frankness and sincerity that many chief executives prefer not to display, but some of his comments — to borrow a line from film critic Andrew Sarris — appear to show a leader who is groping when he should be gripping.
In contrast, the Wall Street Journal has only had a single and very brief mention of Tattooed Chef in its pages, so that company — which has only been publicly traded for nine months — still has time to define itself for an investor audience that doesn’t have the company on its radar.
In this Stock Wars duel, Tattooed Chef is the under-the-radar surprise who is poised to become a sector leader. While Beyond Meat is clearly deserving of attention, traders and long-haul investors may want to pay more attention to Tattooed Chef’s progress.
Photo: Forth With Life / Flickr Creative Commons.
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