AWS for Industries

Industry Innovators 2022: Seth Goldman Covers the Keys to Success in Innovation in Food and Beverage

During our recent 2022 Industry Innovators: Retail & CPG virtual event, AWS’ Justin Honaman met up with Seth Goldman, executive chairman of Beyond Meat and co-founder of PLNT Burger and Eat the Change®, to discuss Goldman’s background in the food and beverage industry as well as the keys to innovation he discovered along the way. Below, we cover highlights from the conversation and share some takeaways on how innovation continues to drive change across every industry.

As a born entrepreneur with a constant itch to redefine how we eat and drink eco-consciously, Goldman knew early on that there was lots of space in the industry to innovate and reach a new audience looking for healthier, more eco-conscious products. After leaving a job in the world of investment in the late 90s, Goldman began the search for a less sugary alternative to the sodas and fruit drinks that were so ubiquitous at the time.

Goldman ultimately landed on the recipe for Honest Tea, a low-calorie beverage that quickly found a consumer base eager to support organic and fair-trade certified products. But after decades transforming the landscape of beverage retail—reshaping the way that consumers view healthy, low-calorie drinks in the 21st century in the meantime—Goldman was ready yet again to move on to the next leg of his journey.

Breaking out of the mold

Partnering with McDonalds and several other distributors, the company eventually grew to become one of the world’s most recognized brands while also eliminating nearly 1 billion calories from the American fast-food diet. Yet early on, market research predicted that consumers preferred sugary drinks over healthy alternatives. Rather than backing down from their commitment to making organic, low-calorie products for everyone, Goldman realized that the most important part of the brand’s message lay not in the products themselves, but in the “honesty” that grounded the entire process. He decided to extend his innovations even further, joining Beyond Meat and PLNT Burger as an advisor and board member.

One of the first steps Goldman’s team made was to introduce healthy plant-based drinks and proteins to the public. To build up this new category, his team needed to establish new consumer habits. This strategy included using samples of Honest Tea in store for parents (and not the kids) to try it and discuss how to eliminate sugar from their diet instead of relying on taste preference where sweeter will always win. Shelving plant-based proteins with other options like chicken, fish, pork, and beef helped reframe it as just another option for dinner as compared to “something for vegetarians.” Like many innovators, Goldman understood the value of encouraging customers to build new buying habits at their own rate, without requiring them to change lifestyles to enjoy new, unique products.

Growing the brand, discovering the mission

COVID-19 presented a potential stumbling block to innovation as well. Thankfully, however, the first eight locations of PLNT Burger were housed inside Whole Foods stores so buyers were always able to access and spread word about their products throughout the pandemic. Later, Goldman found another launch pad to reach a wider audience when his son hit upon the key phrase, “Eat the change you want to see in the world” to describe the eco-conscious mission that Goldman had always believed in at his core. Now they had a clear statement of what they wanted customers to internalize when reaching for their product and sales skyrocketed as a result.

Making new forays in innovation

Nowadays, Goldman and his team are busy building a climate-conscious legacy based on reducing water usage and food waste and converting everyday people to a plant-based diet. The “Eat the Change” initiative empowers consumers around the world to adopt the “climavore” lifestyle—aligning dietary choices with their concerns around climate and health. He is challenged everyday with finding new ways to help people appreciate that their food choices matter via packaging, marketing in untapped channels, and more.

When asked what it takes to operate in an environment that constantly puts innovation at the fore, Goldman says, “You have to be an optimist.” Some production runs fail. Margins can be slim. But the people who succeed and continue to pressure competitors to follow their own market moves has always been clear to Goldman. A relentless work ethic coupled with an innate belief in a bigger cause are both at the root of what it takes to launch a truly revolutionary product line. Whether he is helping brands grow by “undoing” or “redoing” the industry—by either paring down and simplifying ingredients and supply chains or investing in technology that takes flavor, texture, and aroma to the next level—Goldman continues to be a beacon of innovation. We’re excited to see what’s next for his team in the world of food and beverage and beyond.

Interested in learning more about innovators in the world of AWS and what drives them to continue to redefine their industries? Register for the free Industry Innovators: Retail & CPG on-demand event content and watch the “Changing how we eat & the keys to drive innovation” keynote.

Eric Seiberling

Eric Seiberling

Eric Seiberling is the global head of the consumer packaged goods industry marketing at Amazon Web Services, where he helps companies use the power of the cloud to build closer consumer relationships with their brands, improve their organizational agility, and accelerate their digital transformation. Prior to joining AWS, Eric led Dassault Systèmes North American marketing efforts, provided strategic and organizational change management consulting to top CPG and retail companies, and was a brand manager at Procter & Gamble.