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Will Schafer (KSM '05)

Vice President of International Marketing

Vice President of International Marketing

Beyond Meat

Promoting Sustainability Across a Product Lifecycle

It can be difficult to give up something you enjoy, even if there are negative impacts. Chocolate. Ice cream. Meat. However, sometimes there are ways to find the best of both worlds, according to Will Schafer, a graduate of the Kellogg School of Management. As the Vice President of Marketing for Beyond Meat, he is focused on offering “delicious meat from plants that is indistinguishable from traditional animal protein counterparts,” which, he finds, appeals to market demand.

At Kellogg, he learned how to think big picture and recognize system problems, which he applied to clarify a cow’s lack of efficiency as a part of the larger meat production system. “We believe by taking the protein that people put at the center of the plate and switching it from traditional animal protein to one that's plant based, you're going to have a huge impact on four major areas,” says Schafer. Those four areas are: human health, climate change, sustainability (in terms of resource conservation), and animal welfare. 

“The Beyond Meat mission is founded on a realization,” Schafer says. “By making meat directly from plants and skipping the cow, this piece of technology, you can actually make a piece of meat that's not only healthier but is way more sustainable.”

In reshaping the “tech,” the growing company has been able to make measurable progress, using 99% less water, 93% less land, and 50% less energy while generating about 90% fewer greenhouse gases than actual meat. Yet, according to Schafer, these goals aren’t the only thing attracting consumers to Beyond Meat. It’s also the taste.

Consumers want meat alternatives that aren’t about some notion of sacrifice but instead tasted like what they had to sacrifice. “That was somewhat unprecedented before Beyond Meat,” Schafer says. The hope is that by working on taste, the product will appeal not only to vegetarians and vegans but also meat eaters choosing to substitute some of their consumption with a plant-based alternative. 

“This kind of thinking, this consumer mindset, you really learn at Kellogg,” Schafer says. Yet, his career trajectory wasn’t clear right out of Kellogg. After graduating from Northwestern in 2005, Schafer worked at Clorox as a Brand Manager for seven years before pursuing this mission-based change. 

“I did my own introspection on what would be more mission driven work for me. The plant-based sector was just a huge opportunity to take on the passion that I had as a vegetarian.” — Will Schafer (KSM '05), Vice President of Marketing at Beyond Meat

“I did my own introspection on what would be more mission driven work for me,” Schafer says. “The plant-based sector was just a huge opportunity to take the passion that I had as a vegetarian.” 

He began consulting at various companies in the plant-based sector, among them Bolthouse Farms and V-Dog, a vegan dog food company. It was during this time, that a Kellogg networking event introduced Schafer to Beyond Meat. 

For Schafer, working in sustainability was a conscious choice he made later in order to align his work and personal values. While there are many ways to get into sustainability, the time in other sectors allowed him to make a decision to turn the direction of his career toward a future that would bring him fulfillment on many levels.