Interviews

Seth Goldman & Spike Mendelsohn: “The Whole Category Has Been Under Assault by the Animal-Based Meat Industry”

Seth Goldman and Spike Mendelsohn, well-known to most of our US readers, are the visionaries behind Eat the Change and PLNT Burger, one of the most successful plant-based fast food chains in North America.

Mendelsohn is the chef and owner of Vim & Victor, We the Pizza, Santa Rosa Taqueria, and Good Stuff Eatery, while Goldman co-founded Honest Tea and has served as a member of the board at Beyond Meat for over ten years. The duo have been working together for years after meeting in 2017 at a food policy panel at George Washington University. Leveraging Goldman’s mission-driven entrepreneurial expertise and Mendelsohn’s culinary prowess, the two partners have launched multiple successful endeavors since they joined forces.

The pair launched their first joint business, PLNT Burger, in 2019 and currently operate 14 locations in the North Eastern US with plans for continued expansion. In 2020, they founded Eat the Change, with a mission to use food as a force for good. The company creates nutrient-dense plant-based snacks and also operates the ETC Impact program, supporting non-profit organizations.

We spoke to Spike and Seth about recent developments in their joint businesses and thoughts on the current situation in plant-based.

Eat the Change at Nasdaq
© Eat the Change

How has business been in 2023? What have been the highlights for you both?
Seth:
For me, the big highlight has been the explosion of growth that came with Just Ice Tea. We went from not having any tea sales to generating over $15 million in tea sales in the past twelve months. It has been an exhilarating opportunity to reconnect with longtime suppliers, retailers, consumers, and partners.

It was recently announced that Eat the Change’s Mushroom Jerky would be discontinued. Could you share the reasons behind this decision and the strategic shift towards focusing on Just Ice Tea?
Seth: When we saw the strong reception to Just Ice Tea, we recognized that we were not seeing the same kind of response or scale of opportunity with the mushroom jerky. We saw that even if we became a top brand in the category, we weren’t going to be able to capture enough revenue to create a meaningful business. As one of my friends said, it was going to be a long walk to a small house.

Can you provide insights into any upcoming product offerings or expansion plans for Eat the Change in the near future?
Seth:
We are still in the process of rolling out Just Ice Tea to retailers around the country, so we are very excited about what’s ahead. We’ve also developed a line of canned tea, sourced exclusively from our wonderful tea-growing partners in Mozambique. We are also very excited about the package redesign of our Cosmic Chews carrot snacks – and are eager to see how kids and their parents respond to them.

PLNT Burger / Bona Furtuna
© Bona Furtuna

PLNT Burger recently collaborated with Bona Furtuna on the “Chik’n Parm” Sandwich. How did this partnership come about, and what has been the reception from customers?
Spike: Well, we love Bona Furtuna and we thought what a great partnership it could be if we used their amazing organic Sicilian tomato sauce on a chicken Parmesan sandwich we had been working on. The sandwich featured a delicious mushroom root product called Meati –then pair that with Katherine Narducci, the incredible actress from the Sopranos — it’s a partnership match made in heaven. This has been one of my favorite sandwiches on the menu, you won’t believe how good it is!

Does PLNT Burger have any plans for more collaborations with other brands or chefs in the future?
Spike:
Yes absolutely, we’re really lucky to be chef-crafted which really opens us up to working with all the top brands out there, we just recently collaborated with Berner and Cookies to launch a Crème Brûlée banana milkshake, Berner actually came up with it and we spun it and it was so successful it’s a permanent menu option now. You have to try it.

The addition of the “Cool Kids Meal” in August, alongside fundraising campaigns and “kids eat free” offerings, was a unique way to make sustainable eating accessible to families. What has been the response to this new offering, and how does it fit into PLNT Burger’s overall menu strategy?
Spike:
Well, the future of the planet is in our kids’ hands. We also understand that there is some resistance towards plant-based foods that feature the all-American favorites burgers, shakes, chicken sandwiches and fries.

“We are the fast food of the future”

Our goal as a brand is to introduce all customers of any age to delicious plant-based foods that don’t sacrifice the indulgence and deliciousness of fast food. We are the fast food of the future. Kids are also the future and the Cool Kids Meal allows children and families to enjoy some of their favorite familiar foods that support the planet. I mean, how cool is that?

PLNT Burger new restaurant in Bryant Park
©PLNT Burger

PLNT Burger recently opened its 3rd location in NYC. Are there more locations in the pipeline, and can you share any details about your expansion plans?
Spike:
Yes, PLNT Burger has expansion plans for sure. We have had great success with Whole Foods stores which make up 11 of our 14 locations. We also have been executing high-level partnerships with Aramark that have proven that nontraditional retail locations are an innovative way to continue to grow our brands. We are also very excited about our brick-and-mortar location in NYC, you know what they say if can make it in NYC you can make it anywhere.

Beyond Meat has faced some challenges recently, with a drop in stock prices and declining sales. What factors do you believe have impacted this, and what is the outlook for Beyond Meat in your opinion?
Seth:
I continue to be a huge believer in the opportunity for plant-based meat, and Beyond Meat specifically. The whole category has been under assault by the animal-based meat industry, which has raised (absurd) concerns about the health and even the environmental impact of plant-based meat.

One of the reasons I am so optimistic about the category is because of what we’re seeing in Europe. So many Europeans are aware of the environmental and health concerns associated with animal-based meat, and we are even seeing governments taking steps to discourage the consumption of beef and encourage the growth of plant-based meat.

“I continue to be a huge believer in the opportunity for plant-based meat, and Beyond Meat specifically”

I am very excited to see that Beyond Meat has succeeded in gaining the endorsement of the American Heart Association – I think this will play an important role in correcting the bogus concerns about the health properties of plant-based meat.

Beyond Meat Ad Campaign
Supplied by Beyond Meat

How has consumer demand for plant-based menu options changed over the past few years, and what factors do you believe are driving this shift?
Spike: We are definitely experiencing headwinds in the plant-based space. There’s a lot of misinformation out there about plant-based meat and there are big bets being made against its growth and success. What we should all be working towards is a better balance in our food system, focusing on the effects of the planet really matters.

“There’s a lot of misinformation out there about plant-based meat”

I’m hopeful that in the future meat eaters and plant-based eaters will come together and realize that sustainable farming practices are what really matter and it’s not about one or the other but it’s another better, balance. Consumers are looking for the reinventing of processed foods but also propping up whole food options. At PLNT Burger we are great at listening to consumers’ demand and we’ve already introduced more whole food options to the menu like the “Actual Veggie Burger” and will continue to innovate and do so.

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