(CNN) -- Beyond Meat, the plant-based protein company, is on fire. But that wasn't always the case.
The company had a wildly successful initial public offering last month. Since then, its stock price has increased dramatically: Shares traded last week for more than five times the $25 IPO price. For the first quarter of 2019, the company reported sales of $40.2 million — up 215% from the same period a year before.
"It feels like this breakthrough moment," Beyond's executive chair Seth Goldman told CNN Business.
"It's not like all of a sudden we came out nowhere," he said. The company was founded a decade ago. But "in the consumer's mind, it's definitely been a step-change in terms of awareness and acceptance."
One thing that likely helped more people learn about Beyond was its placement in the meat aisle. For Beyond Meat, being sold alongside animal meat is "absolutely critical," Goldman said.
Many supermarkets didn't immediately agree to sell Beyond's products — which include alternatives to beef patties and sausage made from pea protein — next to real meat and sausage.
But over the years, the company has worked to make its product look and taste more like meat. And, he said, grocery stores started to come on board. If they didn't sell the product in the meat aisle, Beyond refused to help promote the product's availability at that location.
"It's really important to us that we enforce that," Goldman said.
Though Beyond Meat is a vegan product, it's designed to appeal to meat eaters who want to diversify their diets or reduce their environmental footprints. And it has: At Kroger, 93% of Beyond Burger shoppers also bought meat in the first half of 2018, Beyond reported in financial documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission ahead of its IPO. Placement in the meat aisle helps ensure the product will be seen by those types of shoppers.
Mainstream fast food and fast casual chains are also noticing the trend. Burger King is selling a meatless Impossible Whopper, which features a meatless patty made by Beyond's competitor Impossible Foods. Little Caesars is testing out an Impossible Supreme pizza, topped with a meatless sausage that is also made by Impossible. These chains and others are seeing demand for the product among their core, carnivorous customers.
Meanwhile, massive food sellers like Nestlé and Tyson are bringing their own meat alternatives to market — a development that will put pressure on upstarts like Beyond Meat.
Goldman maintained that Beyond isn't too concerned about competitors with deep pockets joining the sector.
The entrance of those big players "helps legitimize the space," Goldman said. "This is such a growing, expanding category, I believe there's going to be room" for competitors.
He said that Beyond will be able to compete because "we are exclusively, laser-focused on making meat from plants. And these other big companies aren't."
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