When the pandemic took a swing, founder Danny O’Malley punched back with an affordable new product line and expanded business model.
Prior to launching his company, O’Malley worked for Beyond Meat, a leading brand in the plant-based meat product space. Over the course of his three-year tenure, he saw first-hand the market’s growth potential and untapped opportunities within it.
“Like most entrepreneurs,” O’Malley recalls, “I thought I could go out there and do as good or better at producing these types of products by listening to the consumer and what they wanted. So, I broke away and started Before the Butcher.”
His confidence paid off, and demand for the company’s original product line, Uncut, grew quickly with food service customers.
“From the beginning, we focused on products that were different than our competitors,” O’Malley says. “We had regular ground products including crumbles, chorizo, and Italian sausage, but we also did a pulled pork, chicken chunk, and beef tip. When we came out with a burger, we didn’t just do ‘beef’ like everybody else but a whole family. We now have our classic burger as well as a chicken burger, turkey burger, and breakfast sausage patty.”
The products weren’t just delicious. They also offered restaurants and other food service businesses quality at an affordable price point. And today, they’re even used as ingredients within vegetarian and vegan foods produced by other manufacturers.
“They may buy our grounds and make a burrito with it,” O’Malley explains. “Or a Kung Pao Chicken or empanada — all kinds of products are being made out there with our base. It’s really great business for us, and we appreciate being part of the bigger picture in producing plant-based products for the public as well.”
In 2019, Before the Butcher took their Uncut family of burgers into the retail consumer market. O’Malley says consumers can now find the Uncut line of grounds in retail as well. And this year, the company launched Mainstream, a new, even more affordable retail brand with prices comparable to ground beef and other animal-based proteins.
“The premise behind Mainstream is really to fulfill our promise to our consumers and customers that we would do everything we could to produce a product that was affordable,” O’Malley continues. “Mainstream has a current retail price of $10.99 for a two-pound bag of burgers, which is very close to the price for ground beef burgers on the market today.”
To make pricing like this possible, O’Malley says his team applied everything they’ve learned over the last four years about reducing labor costs, increasing efficiency, and maximizing purchasing opportunities. “We squeezed our margins as well,” he adds. “We really wanted to provide an affordable product for the mainstream public, so we cut corners from every side possible with the exception of quality and taste.”
Challenges: Before the Butcher has been manufacturing both lines in a 20,000-square-foot facility in Irvine that it shares with another manufacturer. However, O’Malley says the company is currently in the middle of a final build out on a 30,000-square-foot facility in San Diego that will be dedicated to plant-based manufacturing.
“Once we’re up and running, we will have 20 million plus pounds per year capacity out of that facility alone,” he says, “but a big challenge right now is getting that new facility up and running. We’ve made sure we have enough product in the freezer, anticipating that we might have some challenges making sure everything is working and we’re getting all the clearances on our permits.”
O’Malley says competition is another challenge. “When we released our plant-based burger, we were the third brand in the market to do it,” he explains. “Now there are probably 30 plus plant-based burgers in the United States alone between branded and private label brands.”
Opportunities: Before the Butcher was acquired by a San Diego-based investment group in 2019 that also owns Jensen Meat Company and several cold storage facilities. O’Malley says the support of these investors was a literal lifesaver during the COVID-19 shutdown and allowed Before the Butcher to remain in business, expand their retail presence, and create the new Mainstream product line despite a significant drop in revenues in 2020.
“We took a heavy hit from COVID,” O’Malley continues. “We were about 80 percent food service and 20 percent retail at the time everything shut down in March. But between the shutdown from COVID and the increased competition, we went back in and retooled. We evaluated what we were doing, how we were doing it, and discovered ways to be more efficient. We also spent more time talking to consumers and finding out what they wanted and needed.”
O’Malley says Before the Butcher is on track to slightly exceed its 2019 sales this year. “But we think that 2022 is going to be a huge year for us,” he adds. “We have a lot of things coming together by Q4 and leading into Q1, and we’re really excited about our opportunities.”
Needs: Though he cites a need for more customers “much like any other company,” O’Malley says his is very fortunate to have the investors it does. “They supported us through a very difficult year last year and they are behind us today,” he continues. “And we don’t have to worry about finances. As long as we can show there’s a use for the investment — whether it’s equipment or building a new facility — they’ve been very open to helping us grow.”