|Founder||Patrick O. Brown|
|Headquarters||Redwood City, California, US|
|Dennis Woodside (President)|
Impossible Foods Inc. is a company that develops plant-based substitutes for meat products. Founded in 2011, and headquartered in Redwood City, California, the company's stated aim is to give people the taste and nutritional benefits of meat without the negative health and environmental impacts associated with livestock products. The company researches animal products at the molecular level, then selects proteins and nutrients from plants to recreate the experience and nutrition of meat products.
The company's signature product, the Impossible Burger, was launched in July 2016, after years of research and development. In partnership with Burger King, Impossible Whoppers started to be sold nationwide by the burger chain in summer 2019. The company also makes a plant-based sausage product that started being tested on pizzas sold by Little Caesars restaurants in May 2019.
Company and product history
In 2009, Stanford biochemistry professor Patrick O. Brown spent an 18-month sabbatical investigating how to eliminate intensive animal farming, which he determined at the time to be the world's largest environmental problem. With other academics, Brown co-organized a conference in 2010 in Washington, D.C., to raise awareness. However, the National Research Council workshop "The Role of Animal Agriculture in a Sustainable 21st Century Global Food System" had minimal impact, and Brown decided soon after that the best way to reduce animal agriculture was to offer a competing product on the free market.
Brown started Impossible Foods in 2011. In July 2016, the company launched its first meat analogue product, the Impossible Burger, which is made from material derived from plants. The company says that making it uses 95% less land and 74% less water, and it emits about 87% less greenhouse gas than making a ground beef burger patty from cows. The plant-based burger has more protein, less total fat, no cholesterol, and less food energy than a similar-sized hamburger patty made with beef. It contains more sodium and more saturated fats than an unseasoned beef patty. The Impossible Burger received Kosher certification in May 2018 and Halal certification in December 2018.
On January 7, 2019, Impossible Foods launched a new version of their signature burger, the Impossible Burger 2.0. The company has stated that the new burger is "tastier, juicier and more nutritious – featuring 30% less sodium and 40% less saturated fat than our current recipe and just as much protein as 80/20 ground beef from cows." The new product is also gluten-free, replacing wheat with soy protein.
In 2019, CEO Pat Brown said they are working on "whole cuts of beef", including steak. "If we can make an awesomely delicious world-class steak ... that will be very disruptive not just to the beef industry, but to other sectors of the meat industry."
In February 2021, the company announced it would be lowering U.S. grocery store prices for its products by 20%, although still not on par with the meat products it is trying to replace. CNBC reported that the coronavirus pandemic generated new interest in meat substitutes as COVID-19 outbreaks in meat-packing facilities caused shortages.
Technology and food safety
Impossible Foods' scientists discovered that heme is a key factor in how meat behaves. Heme is the molecule that gives blood its red color and helps carry oxygen in living organisms. Heme is abundant in animal muscle tissue and is also found naturally in all living organisms. Plants, particularly nitrogen-fixing plants and legumes, also contain heme. The plant-based heme molecule is identical to the heme molecule found in meat.
To produce heme protein from non-animal sources, Impossible Foods selected the leghemoglobin molecule found naturally in the roots of soy plants. To make it in large quantities, the company's scientists genetically engineered a yeast and used a fermentation process very similar to the brewing process used to make some types of beer. In 2014, Impossible Foods declared leghemoglobin is Generally Recognized As Safe after testing under FDA oversight, and filed updates with the FDA in 2017 and 2018. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a "no questions" letter in July 2018, accepting the unanimous conclusion of a panel of food-safety experts that the protein that carries heme is safe to eat. This acceptance letter was limited to products cooked in restaurants because soy leghemoglobin required safety review as a new food colorant for uncooked products. An FDA rule change that accepted the colorant and allows the sale of Impossible Burgers in grocery stores took effect on September 4, 2019.
The company scientists created a chemical library of proteins and fats derived from plants and experimented with them as additional ingredients to mimic the texture of meat. To replicate the fat in hamburgers made from cows, Impossible Foods used flecks of semidried coconut oil, which were mixed with ground textured wheat and potato protein. The potato protein provides a firm exterior when the "meat" is seared. The coconut oil stayed solid until heated, when it melted in a similar manner to beef fat.
Production and availability
Impossible Burgers in restaurants
In 2016 and 2017, Impossible Foods produced Impossible Burgers in both Redwood City, California, and at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Since the production was in relatively small quantities, the burgers were not available at retail locations. Impossible Foods also worked on plant-based products that emulated chicken, pork, fish, and dairy, but decided to concentrate on creating a substitute for the ground beef in burger patties.
The restaurant Momofuku Nishi in New York, owned by David Chang, began serving the Impossible Burger in July 2016. In October 2016, the Impossible Burger became a standing menu item in selected additional restaurants in California, such as Jardinière and Cockscomb in San Francisco, and Crossroads Kitchen in Los Angeles. The Michelin-starred restaurant Public, operated by Brad Farmerie, began serving the Impossible Burger in January 2017.
In March 2017, Impossible Foods announced it would build its first large-scale plant in Oakland, California to produce 1 million pounds of plant-based burger meat per month. In the first half of 2017, the Impossible Burger debuted on the menu of multi-unit franchises including Bareburger in New York City, Umami Burger in California, and Hopdoddy in Texas. In April 2018, White Castle started serving Impossible Burgers. The partnership with White Castle eventually expanded to include all 377 of its locations.
By July 2018, two years after its debut in New York, the Impossible Burger was available at about 3,000 locations in the United States and Hong Kong. By the end of 2018, 5,000 restaurants across all 50 states included the burger on their menus.
In April 2019, Burger King began test marketing an Impossible Whopper using the patty at locations around St. Louis. Later that month, the company announced plans to roll out Impossible Whoppers nationwide before the end of the year. In August, it was officially made available nationwide.
Impossible Burger retail
The Impossible Burger became available in grocery stores for the first time in October 2019, at Gelson's stores, which are only in Southern California. As of May 2020, Impossible Burgers were also available at Fairway Market, Wegman's, Jewel-Osco, Vons, Pavilions, Albertsons in California and Nevada, Safeway in California and Nevada, and various chains owned by Kroger. In April 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, the FDA started allowing restaurants to sell Impossible beef substitute to consumers, with an additional printed-out sheet satisfying label requirements.
In May 2019, Little Caesars began testing the Impossible Supreme pizza in Florida, New Mexico, and Washington state. The pizza features Impossible Foods' first plant-based sausage product, which CEO Patrick Brown claimed had involved the development of 50 prototype sausage products before Little Caesars began offering it to the public. Impossible sausage sandwiches are being sold at many restaurants, including Burger King and Starbucks.
Impossible Foods has raised rounds of $75 million and $108 million from investors including Google Ventures, Khosla Ventures, Viking Global Investors, UBS, Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing's Horizons Ventures, and Bill Gates. It was reported that Patrick Brown had turned down an offer of $300 million to buy out Impossible Foods in 2015.
In May 2016, an additional $16.5 million was raised from debt financing. In August 2017, $75 million in additional financing was raised after reaching key objectives, with Bill Gates investing additional money. In April 2018, an additional $114 million was raised, led by Singapore’s Temasek Holdings and Hong Kong-based Sailing Capital, bringing the total to $372 million. In May 2019, the company raised $300 million of investment. The total valuation of the company raised to $2 billion. On March 16, 2020, another $500 million was raised.
In total, Impossible Foods has raised $1.3 billion over 12 rounds of funding. In August of 2020, the company raised another $200 Million USD in an internal round led by existing investor Coatue.
John Mackey, co-founder and CEO of Whole Foods Market, and a vegan for over 20 years, said he would not endorse meat analogue products due to his belief in the health benefits of whole foods versus the processed nature of meat analogues. Chipotle Mexican Grill CEO, Brian Niccol, said they would not serve meat analogue products at their chains because they are too processed.
LightLife, a brand of meat analogues, criticized its competitors Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods in an open letter published in The New York Times, asking that these companies reduce their use of “hyperprocessed” ingredients. Impossible Foods responded by calling it a "disingenuous, desperate disinformation campaign."
The Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF), a nonprofit advocacy group that has received funding from the meat industry, has targeted Impossible Foods and other meat analogue producers through advertising, including a commercial during Super Bowl LIV criticizing meat analogues for using additives. Impossible Foods quickly answered with a parody commercial. CCF is a project of the Center for Organizational Research and Education.
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