Having gone public via a SPAC (special purpose acquisition company) merger at the start of the current SPAC craze back in mid-2020, Tattooed Chef (TTCF 400.00%) says in its own investor materials that it's looking to be a disruptive upstart in the fast-growing plant-based foods sector. After a pair of recent acquisitions and a toothsome first-quarter earnings report, investors rewarded the company with a 20% share price increase in May

An investor conference began on June 16, allowing investors to get a better look at the company's recent background and get clues as to where it might be going. Here are three points you may want to consider while deciding if Tattooed Chef is the next Beyond Meat (BYND 8.75%) or if its weaknesses will limit its growth.

1. Tattooed Chef's operations are thriving

Despite the company having a traditional advertising budget of zero, Tattooed Chef's sales are booming, with overall revenue jumping 59% year over year from $33.2 million in Q1 2020 to $52.7 million in Q1 2021. An even more favorable sign for customer loyalty and brand recognition was the 105% year-over-year surge in products specifically branded with the Tattooed Chef name (the company also produces store-brand food products for various retailers). The company is projecting between $235 million and $242 million in total revenue for 2021 and a minimum of $300 million in the coming year.

A chef with tattoos working with fruit and vegetables.

Image source: Getty Images.

The plant-based food maker is also achieving notable growth in the extent of its distribution network. According to company data, the number of stores carrying its products soared 41% between Dec. 31, 2020, and March 31, 2021, rising from 4,300 to 6,065. Points of distribution jumped to 31,000 from 23,000, an increase of nearly 35%.

During the Q1 earnings conference call, CEO Salvatore Galletti said that by Q2's end on June 30, "We expect to be an additional 1,162 stores with 8,000 new points of distribution, including a number of larger grocery chains." He added, "We are confident we can achieve our 2021 objective of 10,000 stores and 65,000 points of distribution for Tattooed Chef by year end."

Two early May acquisitions by Tattooed Chef, costing the company a total of $35 million, could be a catalyst for stronger growth and expanded production, too. Tattooed snapped up Karsten Tortilla Factory and New Mexico Food Distributors. According to Galletti, it "will be immediately addressing the $1 billion Frozen Mexican Food category once the transactions close," and will use the new acquisitions as a stepping stone into the $20 billion market for "Hispanic/Southwest" food.

With Abasto reporting around two-thirds of Americans (233 million) using at least some Mexican foods or recipes according to Statista research, and growth in this type of dining expected to continue, Tattooed Chef's move helps it establish a new position in a strong market sector. The purchase also adds 118,000 square feet of production facilities to its total, helping prevent a processing bottleneck during this period of rapid sales growth. Galletti remarks the two acquisitions are projected to "contribute up to $200 million annually in revenue in the next two to three years and create significant value."

The company is also expanding from a focus on frozen and refrigerated foods to shelf-stable foods (which it refers to with the buzzword phrase "ambient foods" in company literature). With sales of major shelf-stable food categories such as vegetables and soups having grown anywhere from 28% to 31.3% in 2020 according to market research firm IRI, this could be another potential sales driver.

2. It's not all sunshine for the company

Despite its skyrocketing sales and its relative freedom from the expense of a significant advertising budget, Tattooed Chef still registered a net loss in Q1 2021. The company's bottom line has worsened year over year: It produced positive $5.9 million net income in Q1 2020 versus a $7.9 million net loss in the same period this year. It has seen a rise in operating expenses, including a few million directed towards marketing and several million directed towards stock compensation.

While Tattooed Chef makes plant-based cauliflower burgers, it simply doesn't have the serious research and development (R&D) muscle of Beyond Meat or privately held Impossible Foods to produce meat substitutes at the same level. While Beyond and Impossible maintain laboratories and fund teams of scientists to develop plant protein faux meat closely mimicking the flavor, texture, cooking characteristics, nutrition, and even bleeding of actual meat and are working on similarly advanced plant-based milk and eggs, Tattooed Chef's cauliflower burgers are just spiced and breaded cauliflower patties, a far more casual approach.

Given that Beyond and Impossible owe their success to the accurate simulation of meat in a plant-based format, Tattooed Chef seems unlikely to tap strongly into that growth market. Its acai bowls, smoothie bowls, and other products, while proving salable, don't have the cutting-edge sales leverage of the advanced faux meats offered by its competitors and might be readily substituted with other companies' frozen meal bowls. Tattooed Chef, at this point, appears to lack the powerful, clear-cut product differentiation at the heart of the success of manufacturers like Beyond Meat.

3. The high short interest in Tattooed Chef is a wild card

One factor with potentially unpredictable consequences for Tattooed Chef is high short interest, standing at slightly over 36% at the start of June. Under ordinary market conditions, this would be a negative, indicating a large cohort of short-sellers have done their due diligence and found the company's fundamentals to be significantly lacking. A few years ago, this beefy short interest would have been a definitive warning sign about the company's future.

In today's stock market climate, however, the high short interest could potentially attract the attention of large numbers of retail investors, such as those from the millions-strong r/WallStreetBets Reddit community. Noted for their tremendous short squeeze on the stock of video game seller GameStop and a growing handful of other "meme stocks," these Redditors and other small investors remain on the lookout for heavily shorted stocks to buy in quantity.

While Tattooed Chef seems to have drawn relatively little notice from these investors up until now, the quest for the next short squeeze takedown could eventually see the company become a meme stock, too. In this case, an attempted squeeze by WallStreetBets readers could pump immense streams of cash into Tattooed Chef, giving the company ample liquidity to aggressively pursue expansion, boost production capacity, and increase the range of product development.

Should you add a taste of Tattooed Chef to your portfolio?

While Tattooed Chef isn't making the groundbreaking plant-based meat or dairy products of Beyond Meat or Impossible Foods, it appears to have some real potential to become a profitable midsize vegetarian and vegan meal company. Its troubled bottom line and high short interest point to some risk, though, as noted, the latter could become an asset if the company becomes a meme stock and draws a major short squeeze cash inflow from Reddit retail investors at some point.

Even without such a windfall, however, Tattooed Chef's entry into the Mexican-style food market, along with its rapid development of distribution channels, look like bullish indicators. While the company's future is uncertain and carries some risk, Fools investing in food stocks may want to consider adding at least a few of the company's shares to their holdings.