On October 19, a federal lawsuit filed by plant-based meat manufacturer Don Lee Farms against Beyond Meat and its CEO Ethan Brown alleging the company made misleading claims about its substitute meat products was settled. A second suit also brought by Don Lee Farms against Beyond Meat in a California state court concerning disputes and unpaid bills arising from its previous work for Beyond Meat was also settled. The initial dispute between the companies was filed in 2017, and the settlements end a five-year legal battle.
On October 18, the two parties issued a joint press release noting they had reached a settlement agreement and agreed to dismiss all claims and cross-claims asserted in both court cases. Although no details about the settlement were disclosed, neither party admitted liability or wrongdoing.
In the federal suit, Don Lee Farms, a former co-manufacturer with Beyond Meat, claimed that the latter company violated California state laws governing false advertising and unfair competition under the federal Lanham Act. “The [federal] lawsuit alleged that Beyond Meat was deceiving consumers by overstating the protein content of their products by as much as 30%,” says Robert Abiri, a Los Angeles-based attorney who focuses on false or misleading claims companies make in violation of federal laws. “There is also a secondary set of allegations focusing on using synthetic ingredients when Beyond Meat claims all its products are natural.”
He says that the allegations were based on the notion that not all proteins are the same, and those that come from plants—such as those used by Beyond Meat—are not as efficient or digestible for humans a are those that come from animals. “A consumer would need to eat more of the same amount of Beyond Meat’s protein to reach 20 grams of protein he or she would receive from an animal-based protein product,” Abiri says. For example, Beyond Meat’s advertising a product containing 20 grams of protein is only really providing 15 to 18 grams of the equivalent animal-based protein.
Since the terms of the settlement will likely remain confidential, Abiri notes that it’s hard to measure the exact effect it will have on Beyond Meat. Still, he feels that the settlement will put other manufacturers on notice. The settlement may also cause consumers to reconsider the protein claims made by plant-based protein companies as inferior to those of animal-based proteins.