Food companies and their stocks have seen mixed results from COVID-19. The pandemic took a large bite out of sales for most restaurants, which had to close their dining rooms, although digital and delivery picked up some of the slack. Manufacturers with a focus on home consumption did better as more people began eating at home.

But the coronavirus isn't the beginning and end of food history. A focus on the long term means analyzing the foundation and embracing the occasional dips. Shake Shack (NYSE:SHAK) and Beyond Meat (NASDAQ:BYND) have very different business models, both related to food. Let's see how they stack up against each other.

Before COVID-19

Shake Shack is a premium fast-food restaurant chain that was growing by strong double digits before the pandemic closed dining rooms. But comps were growing more slowly, only 1.3% in the fourth quarter ended Dec. 25 of last year, and the last one before the pandemic.

Beyond Burger.

Image source: Beyond Meat.

Although most of the company's sales growth comes from new stores, it doesn't open too many annually. In 2019, it opened only 73 stores globally as compared with Chipotle Mexican Grill's (NYSE:CMG) 140 and McDonald's (NYSE:MCD) plans to open 1,400 in 2020.

Beyond Meat sells plant-based burgers and other meat substitutes. It has a retail arm where individual consumers can purchase products in supermarkets as well as partnerships with restaurant chains, like Pizza Hut, that prepare their own products.

The company is continually innovating, bringing out new products like meatballs and family packs. It also keeps expanding its global presence. In other words, there's a reason it had triple-digit growth before the pandemic started.

Beyond Meat had a celebrated initial public offering (IPO) in May 2019, and the share price gained more than 800% from the IPO price by July 2020. It came back down to earth, but it's trading at 331 times forward one-year earnings as of this writing.

During COVID-19

Shake Shack already had trouble right at the beginning of the pandemic. In the first quarter ended March 25, revenue increased 8%, but comparable sales, or comps in short, decreased 12%.

A pair of premium burgers on a cutting board.

Image source: Getty Images.

Second-quarter sales decreased almost 40%, with digital accounting for 75% of the total. The third quarter showed improvement, with a 17% decrease, but comps were still down 31%, and digital made up 60% of sales. Same-Shack sales, or comps, were only down 4% in October in suburban areas, and this gives the company a clue as to how to move forward.

Beyond Meat's phenomenal growth began to subside as the pandemic kicked in.

Metric Q3 2020 Q2 2020 Q1 2020 Q4 2019 Q3 2019 Q2 2019 Q1 2019
Revenue growth 2.7% 69% 141% 212% 250% 287% 215%

Data source: Beyond Meat quarterly reports.

While it did post a weak sales growth in the third quarter ended Sep. 26, it fell short of expectations as food service sales stayed sluggish, and produced a loss. CEO Ethan Brown said that retail was also weaker because customers stocked up in the second quarter. But even second-quarter revenue growth showed a slowdown from previous quarters. 

After COVID-19?

Shake Shack is focusing on developing digital-friendly formats and drive-thrus as well as improving the customer experience. These moves should help its comps recover. The company has tremendous potential ahead as it tweaks its strategy, and expands its domestic and global presence.

As for beyond Meat, Brown said, "We have not ... blinked in our focus on the expanding long-term opportunity before us and continue to operate our business locked in on this exciting long-term growth trajectory." There is still plenty of market share to be had, and Beyond Meat has one of the biggest names and largest reaches in plant-based meat. However, there's also lots of competition from smaller manufacturers and store-owned brands like Kroger's' (NYSE:KR) Simple Truth.

The recent third-quarter report didn't altar customer confidence too much, and shares are still up 65% year to date. Shake Shack shares are up 32% year to date even though both companies showed losses in their recent quarters.

Beyond Meat has been the top story and historically the better-performing stock, but I think that Shake Shack has much more potential for stable, long-term growth and is therefore the better buy.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.