Insider No. 64: How Hip-Hop Made Plant-based Cool

Meatless meat is booming. But what’s propelling the protein alternative trend? While climate change, animal welfare, and health concerns play a role, hip-hop is paving the way for the plant-based movement.

The numbers: Plant-based eating is on the rise. According to a 2017 Nielsen survey, 39% of Americans are trying to eat more plant-based foods. And a new Gallup poll found African Americans to be the fastest-growing segment of the plant-based population.

  • In the last 12 months, white Americans reported eating 10% less meat while people of color reported eating 31% less.
  • A 2016 Pew Research Center survey found 3% of American adults overall identified as vegan. Among African American adults, that number jumps to 8%.

Zooming out: Could hip-hop’s cultural cache be the missing ingredient that turns a bland veggie burger into a billion-dollar empire?

Kale Rules Everything Around Me

Many of hip-hop’s most prominent figures are going plant-based. Among the converts, Snoop Dogg, most of Wu-Tang Clan, Jay-Z, Beyoncé, KRS-One, Jermaine Dupri, Jaden Smith, and A$AP Rocky have made the switch.

But this isn’t a new phenomenon. In his 1990 song “Beef”, KRS-One called meat “the number one drug on the street”. Common, the king of conscious rap, began moving away from meat in the early ’90s. And rapper/producer Jermaine Dupri adopted a vegan diet over a decade ago.

More than a personal choice, these artists have become advocates for and investors in meat-free living.

In 2015, Jay-Z and Beyoncé launched 22 Days Nutrition, a vegan nutrition company. Jay-Z is also an investor in vegan cookie maker Partake Foods and plant-based protein company Impossible Foods. Impossible also counts Jaden Smith, Questlove, and will.i.am among its list of celebrity investors while partnering with Wu-Tang Clan on promotional campaigns. Meanwhile, Beyond Meat is backed by Snoop Dogg.

The Buzzworthy Burger

The idea of a veggie burger isn’t new. So, what’s different this time around? Timing.

Product zeitgeist fit. In startup circles, product/market fit—a product’s ability to satisfy a strong market demand—is the holy grail. But a product that plays into or shifts culture is pretty powerful, too.

At a time when climate change, the Western diet, and industrial farming have us questioning our way of life, celebrity-backed veggie burgers are perfectly suited for the mood of the times. Add to that the culture cache that comes with hip-hop’s cosign and you’ll see that the plant-based meat industry has mastered product zeitgeist fit.

A Plant-based Future

We’re in the early days of what’s quickly becoming a plant-based future. No, meat isn’t going anywhere — globally, meat-eating is on the rise. But, given the momentum and money behind plant-based and lab-grown alternatives, no animal protein is safe from disruption.

  • Barclays expects the market for alternative meat to jump 1,000% in the next decade to reach $140B.
  • In the US, investors put $16B into plant-based meat, egg, and dairy companies since 2009, including $13B in 2017 and 2018 alone.

Punchline: From fish and shrimp to chicken nuggets, milk, and ice cream, any food that can be plant-based will be. And, whether it’s rappers, actors, or other public figures, influencers will help usher meat alternatives into the mainstream.

🏆 Peloton Takes a Victory Lap

This just in — Peloton Interactive and Flywheel Sports have settled a legal dispute over alleged technology theft and patent infringement.

The Verdict

  • Flywheel acknowledged that it copied Peloton’s leaderboard technology and will pull the technology from its bikes within 60 days.
  • Flywheel also agreed to drop its legal challenge to Peloton’s patents.

Why it matters: As the connected fitness wars intensify, this news helps to cement Peloton’s lead on a few fronts.

First, the company is sending a signal to its competitors: “if you’re infringing on our technology, we’ll see you in court.” With this win, they have a clear upper hand. Next, the leaderboard technology in question plays a pivotal role in Peloton’s ability to engage its users, contributing to a network effect, fostering an online community, and keeping members coming back for more. Protecting it is a must.

Finally, the victory appears to validate Peloton’s claim that, beyond manufacturing fitness equipment, they are, in fact, a tech company. Whether or not that’s enough to justify or sustain their multi-billion-dollar valuation remains to be seen.


➡️ On the Move

Former Equinox president Sarah Robb O’Hagan is the new chief executive of EXOS.

  • Per Fast Company, O’Hagan has been advising the health and performance company since September. Now, Robb will step into the CEO spot, replacing Dan Burns, who will remain on the company’s board.

No stranger to the fitness world, O’Hagan also had stints as the CEO of Flywheel Sports, the global president of Gatorade, and a marketing director at Nike.

Going forward: Known for its high-performance athletic training programs, EXOS has 600 global locations. The 20-year-old company also has a stronghold in corporate wellness. Now, with Robb’s help, the company hopes to broaden its appeal in a crowded fitness landscape.

🍺 Teetotalism Takes Hold

From Dry January and Sober October to the rise of mindful drinking, abstaining from alcohol is the new cool. But there’s a catch. Most Americans don’t really drink in the first place. So, there’s nothing “new” about this trend.

  • 30% of American adults don’t drink.
  • Another 30% consume less than one drink per week.
  • Conversely, nearly 24M US adults consume about 10 drinks per day.

No, that’s not a typo. The top 10% of drinkers consume about 70 drinks each week. This group effectively props up the entire US booze business. Far from an isolated occurrence, this usage curve demonstrates the Pareto Principle, where the top 20% of buyers account for approximately 80% of sales.

New, new: The difference, then, is the number of no- or low-alcoholic upstarts catering to the health-conscious consumer. Instead of a definitive choice between drinking and not drinking, Athletic Brewing’s non-alcoholic beer, Seedlip’s spirit-free spirits, and category-creators like Kin Euphorics are disrupting the $250B US alcohol industry.

And January is proving to be the perfect dry run for the sober curious.

  • Social media mentions of ‘Dry January’ increased 1,083% between 2015 and 2019.
  • Year-to-date sales of non-alcoholic beer through January 18, 2020, were up 39% versus the same time period last year.
  • Athletic Brewing CEO Bill Shufelt told Forbes that January’s online sales were up 480% compared to last year.

While you’re here: Read the Fitt Insider report on The Rise of Mindful Drinking.

📰 News & Notes

⭐️ Star Search

💰 Money Moves

  • Wheel, a startup building a telemedicine infrastructure, secured a $13.9M Series A funding round. Read more: DTC Healthcare
  • Prebiotic beverage maker OLIPOP closed $10M in Series A funding.  
  • Direct-to-consumer winemaker Haus raised $4.5M for its all-natural, low-ABV aperitif. Read more: Sober is the New Cool 
  • Everytable received a $2.5M investment earmarked for recruiting franchisees of color from underserved areas.
  • Healthy fast-casual concept Fresh Kitchen closed $4M for Florida expansion.  
  • Cooks Venture, a regenerative agriculture startup (a trend from our 2020 Outlook), raised $4M in funding.
  • Chickpea snack company The Good Bean acquired healthy chip maker Beanitos.
  • Animal-free dairy protein company Perfect Day prepares to go beyond ice cream as it eyes an IPO.

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