Paul Shapiro, the CEO of Better Meat Co., has turned a personal passion into an impactful career. Since childhood, Paul has been a strong advocate for animal rights. In fact, he ate meat for the final time at age 13; soon after that, he gave up dairy products and eggs as well.
As a teenager at Georgetown Day School in Washington, D.C., Paul created an animal welfare club called Compassion Over Killing. Then, after graduating from George Washington University in 2001 with a degree in peace studies, Paul returned to Compassion Over Killing, building it into a national organization.
While working there, Paul oversaw various campaigns that led to better treatment for livestock and farm animals. During those years, Paul even conducted some undercover investigations himself.
Although Paul left Compassion Over Killing in 2005 to explore new opportunities, the organization lives on. Today, it’s known as Animal Outlook.
Since 2018, Paul has been the CEO of The Better Meat Co., which is headquartered in Sacramento. This startup supplies plant-based meat proteins to meat processors and companies that sell and serve food. When those proteins are mixed with meat, the results are tastier, healthier, more affordable, and more sustainable.
Paul has also established himself as a speaker, author, and podcast host. His 2018 book “Clean Meat: How Growing Meat Without Animals Will Revolutionize Dinner and the World” chronicled the global search for a delicious meat substitute.
For example, “Clean Meat” explains how scientists can humanely extract animal cells and use them to grow cultured meat, also called cultivated meat. Both gripping and timely, this book became a bestseller.
Paul has contributed articles to such major publications as the Washington Post, Scientific American, and Fortune. He’s appeared on CNN and on hundreds of news programs. Plus, he’s delivered four popular TEDx talks on animals and clean meat.
Another exciting venture is the Business for Good Podcast, which began in July 2018. On this compelling program, Paul interviews industry leaders and entrepreneurs to find out how their companies address vital social issues.
Paul Shapiro is also on the Jackie Mays Grill advisory board, and he’s been inducted into the U.S. Animal Rights Hall of Fame. He lives in Sacramento with Toni Okamoto Shapiro, his wife. Toni is a vegan cook and author. If charity begins at home, a devotion to animal protection apparently does as well.
How did you get started in this business?
After writing Clean Meat, a book that chronicles the entrepreneurs, scientists, and investors racing to commercialize the world’s first slaughter-free meat, I made the decision that rather than continuing to write about the people I thought could build a better food system, I’d try my hand at becoming one of them myself.
How do you make money?
I serve as the CEO of The Better Meat Co., a plant protein ingredients startup that helps meat companies use fewer animals by blending our formulas into their meat.
How long did it take for you to become profitable?
The company was founded in 2018 and still has an enormity of growth ahead.
When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle that?
Startups have high mortality rates and especially high infant mortality rates. The Better Meat Co. may not be an infant anymore, but we still have a long way to go. I’ve always firmly believed that we’ll succeed, though there’ve of course been trying times. During those periods, I try to remember Nelson Mandela’s maxim: it always seems impossible until it’s done.
How did you get your first customer?
Our first large customer, Perdue Farms, approached us to see if we could be helpful for them in creating a blended chicken nugget: half plant-based and half-chicken. We were able to innovate and create a custom formulation for them that worked well. Now, they sell those nuggets, plus other products with our plant protein ingredients in 7,100 stores. Perdue has been a good partner to us.
What is one marketing strategy (other than referrals) that you’re using that works really well to generate new business?
We exist to help our potential customers solve problems, and we focus on how we can be of service to them. Whether that’s cost reduction, yield improvement, nutritional enhancement, or more, we’re obsessed with being a good partner to our customers and will always go the extra mile to get them what they need.
What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?
Many of the toughest decisions are in team member selection: both picking the best people for a team and deciding when it’s no longer the right fit.
What do you think it is that makes you successful?
We have a long way to go before I’d consider our company truly successful in achieving the grand goals that we have. However, our commitment to continuous improvement and a relentless work ethic is helpful.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
Seeing products with our ingredients in the marketplace is a truly rewarding experience.
What does the future hold for your business? What are you most excited about?
The Better Meat Co. continues to grow in our staffing, our product line, and our customer base. Our goal is to become the one-stop-shop ingredient solutions provider for companies looking to make more sustainable protein products.
What business books have inspired you?
I really got a lot out of reading Shoe Dog (Nike’s story) and Mission in a Bottle (Honest Tea’s story).
What advice would you give to your younger self?
To think more critically about what the most effective ways are to achieve your goals. There can sometimes be a big difference between doing what may be popular in your social circle and doing what’s actually effective in attaining the end you’re seeking.
Are you willing to be a mentor? If so, how should someone contact you?
I’m happy to offer thoughts to anyone who’d like to contact me.