Beyond Meat shares fell Friday, Feb. 28, the most in four months despite posting revenue that blew past analysts' estimates — a sign investors may be looking for more than rapid sales growth from the faux meat maker.
The company's fourth-quarter sales of $98.5 million exceeded the highest analyst projection and helped push full-year revenue beyond expectations to $297.9 million. Beyond Meat, which reported after the close on Thursday, Feb. 27, forecast 2020 sales of $490 million to $510 million, also topping estimates.
Chief Executive Officer Ethan Brown said the company is "only scratching the surface" of the U.S. restaurant market, but investors may be impatient for a bigger deal with a major player like McDonald's. Beyond Meat is in about 4% of the 650,000 restaurants in the U.S., Brown said, referring to the low number as an opportunity for rapid growth.
The company's forecast that adjusted Ebitda — earnings excluding items such as interest and depreciation — will remain a similar percentage of revenue in 2020 from last year, may have disappointed investors, Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Jennifer Bartashus said.
"People were looking for a bit more than that," she said. Ebitda was 8.5% of revenue in 2019, according to the company's statement.
Beyond Meat, known for its volatility since its IPO last year, fell as much as 19% in New York trading, the biggest intraday drop since October. The company's shares had rallied 40% this year through Thursday's close.
Competition is also rapidly intensifying as big-food players catch up with faux meat products of their own, although Brown said Beyond Meat cut prices less than had been expected with all the new entrants. Still, Wall Street may be pricing in slower gains following the rapid share gains of the past year.
Brown said on a conference call late Thursday that the company should focus on aggressive growth, "even if this comes at the expense of near-term profit and margin expansion."
The company's decision to accelerate investments to expand the business also may have rattled investors, Bartashus and other analysts said.
"Aggressive growth begets material investment and creeping competition," said Rob Dickerson, an analyst at Jefferies. Beyond will need to invest to increase its production scale and capture market share, he said, "which in turn is necessary to improve margins over time."
The stock also has attracted investors who are betting on a decline: Shares on loan to short sellers make up 26% of the stock's float, according to data from financial analytics firm S3 Partners.
Beyond Meat, along with rival Impossible Foods Inc., also can't ignore growing doubts about China — a key growth market — after the coronavirus outbreak. The virus has slowed Beyond Meat's plans to start producing in China, Brown said, but it still expects to have production up and running in Asia this year.
"The concern is more around reaction to it than the actual virus," Brown said. "The rate at which it's actually causing people to die is not significant relative to other things out there so I think we need to put it in perspective."
Beyond Meat has continued to strike new or expanded alliances with big restaurant companies. Starbucks said last week it will start selling a Beyond Meat-branded sausage item in Canada, after a January announcement that McDonald's and Beyond Meat were expanding their partnership there.
While its research and development spending did not keep pace with its revenue growth, innovation remains core to the business, Brown said. Beyond Meat is planning product launches in food service and retail, while work on bacon and steak continues, he said.
The company expects to bring down prices as it tries to achieve price parity with meat, executives said on a call discussing earnings.
The company also said Seth Goldman would resign as executive chair, but would remain chairman of the board. It wasn't immediately clear how Goldman's role and responsibilities would change.