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Beyond Meat makes history with the biggest US IPO pop since 2008 crisis

Ethan Brown, founder and CEO of Beyond Meat Inc, hugging a family member during the firm's IPO at the Nasdaq MarketSite in New York on Thursday.

New York

BEYOND Meat went where no US company had gone in more than a decade as its shares nearly tripled in their first day of trading, as investors showed an appetite for the growing trend in plant-based diets.

The 163 per cent surge for the maker of vegan beef and sausage products was the best debut session of any US listing since at least 2008 among initial public offerings (IPOs) that raised at least US$200 million.

Backed by Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio and Microsoft founder Bill Gates, the California-based firm had valued itself at about US$1.5 billion at opening on the Nasdaq exchange. But its starting share price of US$25 soon sky-rocketed to US$65.75, before ending at US$59.43 - for a valuation of US$3.38 billion.

Founded in 2009, the company has tapped into changing consumer appetites as growing numbers of people turn to plant-based meat alternatives, whether vegans who shun all animal products or flexitarians advocating moderate consumption of meat.

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Its IPO comes a month after its Silicon-valley rival Impossible linked up with Burger King to offer a plant-based version of its signature Whopper. Nestle and Unilever are also aiming to cement their presence in the expanding sector.

Beyond Meat's early trading success is further proof of the mainstream appeal of plant-based foods, according to Bruce Friedrich, director of the Good Food Institute, an organisation promoting alternatives to animal products. Investors "recognise that this is not a niche market but a movement of magnitude and a big financial opportunity," he added. "The plant-based meat industry is thriving and consumers cannot get enough of it."

As climate change movements take hold across the world, enviroment-conscious citizens are looking for ways to reduce their impact on the world, including rethinking their diet.

The food firm says its signature Beyond Burger uses significantly less water, less land, generates fewer greenhouse gas emissions, and requires less energy compared to a US quarter-pound beef burger.

Eating a plant-based protein would "help address concerns related to human health, climate change, resource conservation and animal welfare" as it seeks to compete with the US$1.4 trillion global meat industry, it adds.

However, despite its popularity, Beyond Meat is still not profitable and recorded a net loss of US$30 million in 2018, according to its most recent financial records released on Monday. But it has seen strong growth, with US$88 million in sales in 2018, compared with US$33 million in 2017 and US$16 million in 2016.

"We have a history of losses, and we may be unable to achieve or sustain profitability," the firm cautioned in its filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The group said it would use the funds raised to "expand our marketing channels, invest in our distribution and manufacturing facilities, hire additional employees and enhance our technology and production capabilities".

While soya burgers have existed for quite some time, Beyond Meat is one of several companies that have taken the product up a notch by using sophisticated technology to make it taste, look and smell like meat. It uses peas, beans and soya to make steak, sausage and minced meat alternatives and uses beets to make its burgers "bleed". The product is already sold in thousands of supermarkets and restaurants, including TGI Fridays.

Beside Mr Gates and DiCaprio, its early backers include Twitter co-founders Biz Stone and Evan Williams, former McDonald's director Don Thompson, meat giant Tyson Foods and the Humane Society.

Goldman Sachs, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Credit Suisse Group, Jefferies and JPMorgan Chase are among the banks that served as underwriters to the El Segundo, California-based company, which is listed on the Nasdaq. The banks have been busy through the start of 2019 with each serving as an underwriter for Lyft or Uber Technologies. BLOOMBERG, AFP

READ MORE: Beware vegan 'meat' peddled by venture capitalists

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