Jimmy Donaldson is the 24-year-old mega-YouTuber behind MrBeast, and his spinoff burger chain, MrBeast Burger. After becoming the country’s fastest-growing restaurant brand, MrBeast Burger is expected to bring in $100 million in sales this year, from 1,700 virtual, delivery-only locations and just one full-service restaurant, located in New Jersey’s American Dream Mall. Profit margins are estimated at 30%. Donaldson and his team are now in full-blown expansion mode and are planning for what could be dozens of locations to open in 2023.
There’s a lot of momentum and buying power there. That’s why what the top-earning creator shared with me during a rare interview may have lasting ramifications for the food industry. When I visited him for his 30 Under 30 issue feature interview and cover shoot – at Donaldson’s secret 100-acre compound near Greenville in eastern North Carolina – Donaldson said that as he expands the locations and menu offerings of MrBeast Burger, he wants the food to be healthier, and also more climate friendly.
“I really want to figure out how we can get more people eating something like Impossible meat,” Donaldson explained to me from the studio in his 60,000-square-foot warehouse.
Donaldson, with 112 million YouTube subscribers, is already quite cash-rich. After becoming the top-earning creator last year with $54 million in 2021, Donaldson is on track to make more than $110 million this year. That means he has a lot of money to deploy to see his ideas come to life.
Yet his strategy is currently narrow. It focuses on venture-backed alternative proteins. Donaldson said he tries to take climate change into consideration on the menu, which is why he says MrBeast Burger has been selling a version of Impossible Foods’ vegan, soy-based burger. He claims sales of the plant-based patty are “doing good.” But he also said that he eventually sees Impossible’s protein as a stepping stone to sourcing no-kill meat, derived from animal cells incubated in a lab.
“The second someone can make lab-grown meat that actually tastes good enough where people don’t even notice, then I’m all for it. I’m switching in a heartbeat,” Donaldson said.
In a long-anticipated decision last month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration took the first steps toward approving slaughter-less meat for commercial sale and consumption. But scaling up still has a long way to go, as I’ve written about for Forbes and also cover extensively in my book Raw Deal, publishing next Tuesday. Producing tiny quantities of lab-grown meat is still extremely costly. Donaldson said he’s keeping a close-watch, and understands that there are big challenges for adoption.
“The problem is, a lot of people still attach a negative connotation to it, and they’re like, ‘I prefer real meat.’” he said. “So I’m trying to figure out how to navigate it. But I would personally love to switch over to one of these soon.”
He added a caveat: “I don’t want it to just switch over and then we don’t sell any and then it does no good. It’s got to be where people are actually buying it. So it actually makes a change.”
—Chloe Sorvino, Staff Writer
Preorder my book, Raw Deal: Hidden Corruption, Corporate Greed and the Fight for the Future of Meat, out December 6 from Simon & Schuster’s Atria Books.
Tonight! I’m interviewed by former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman
Friday, December 2nd
8:01 p.m. eastern
Featuring A Conversation With Chef Sophia Roe
Wednesday, December 7th
McNally Jackson South Street Seaport
7 p.m. eastern
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Could MrBeast Be The First YouTuber Billionaire? Why would anyone spend 50 hours buried alive just to make a YouTube video? Jimmy Donaldson—a.k.a. “MrBeast”—had 54 million reasons last year. And the world’s top-earning creator is now looking to sell a stake in his studio that could elevate him into the three-comma club. By Yours Truly.
Meet The Next Class Of Forbes 30 Under 30 Listers Transforming The Food Industry. This year’s list highlights up-and-coming superstars from the worlds of restaurants, farming, packaged food, alcohol and recipe development. By Yours Truly, with Kristin Stoller and Anthony Telez.
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A bowl of spaghetti with prosciutto ends and mushrooms to celebrate less than one week until my book RAW DEAL publishes!
Chloe Sorvino leads coverage of food and agriculture as a staff writer on the enterprise team at Forbes. Her book, Raw Deal: Hidden Corruption, Corporate Greed and the Fight for the Future of Meat, will publish on December 6, 2022, with Simon & Schuster’s Atria Books. Her nearly nine years of reporting at Forbes has brought her to In-N-Out Burger’s secret test kitchen, drought-ridden farms in California’s Central Valley, burnt-out national forests logged by a timber billionaire, a century-old slaughterhouse in Omaha and even a chocolate croissant factory designed like a medieval castle in northern France.
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