Following the not-so-sci-fi story about Holi Food that we recently published on our blog, with this blog post I want to capture some my reflections on Impossible Foods, a real company (this time), that I’ve recently had the chance to visit during one my recent trips to the Bay Area.
For those who are not familiar with Impossible Foods, it’s a US-based company that is trying to transform the global food system by inventing a better way to make meats, cheeses and other products without using animals.
The tour started with a thorough visit of Impossible Foods’ Headquarters in Redwood City.
Jessica Appelgren, Vice President of Communications, welcomed us in the facility and after giving us a brief overview of the company, presented the ‘menu of the day’ (food pun intended) ;)…and there was one element of her presentation that really caught my attention: with my surprise, they clearly stated that everything was on record and therefore we could have taken as many pictures and videos as we liked.
The actual press tour began with one of Impossible Foods’ scientist who showed us what goes in their plant-based burgers (see picture below) and explained (while she was mixing the ingredients) how their patties actually come to life. Shortly after that, she started cooking some patties in front of us and at this point, I was just craving to try one as I was curious to see if it actually tasted as good as it looked.
Note: Leghemoglobin ‘Heme’ definition: the heme molecule in plant-based heme is atom-for-atom identical to the heme molecule found in meat. It’s what gives their burger the red colour.
Following this tasting session we then we had the chance to meet with Dr. Patrick O. Brown, Impossible Foods’ founder and CEO, who walked in the room to share with us his vision for the company and do a brief Q&A session.
He talked about a number of issues but a few of his statements really hit home for me:
1.He wants to take meat out of the food equation — as visionary as it may sound, i think it’s no secret that the current practices for meat productions are highly unsustainable considering that it takes, on average, 1,800 gallons of water to produce a single pound of beef. So pound for pound, it has a much higher water footprint than vegetables, grains or beans; which is why he’s of the opinion that by replacing animal proteins with plant-based ones we can feed more people while making a dent to reducing the carbon footprint toll and other environment-related negative externalities produced by humans.
2. They want to build the most transparent food company in the world — this is the statement that really stroke me the most. In the past, I had the chance to meet CEO’s of large food companies and visit their facilities but I have never heard anything like that before. With consumers more and more concerned of what goes into their food, their ethos truly resonated with me both as a consumer and as someone who works in this industry…with all the lack of transparency and scandals that big corporates have faced in the past, I strongly believe in the future more and more food companies will commit to become more transparent in terms of what they put in their foods and their processing practices.
3. They state they will never release a product that doesn’t deliver on taste but most and foremost that isn’t produced in a more sustainable way than the original product (eg. beef patties). Patrick mentioned that they are constantly experimenting with new ingredients to develop new products and have already developed a number of other products (eg. fish) — however he also made it clear that, in order to release a new product to the market, they won’t only look at its intrinsic features (e.g taste, texture) but also at its production sustainability (both economically and in terms of resources) at scale.
Note: to give a sense of this, I think it’s interesting to notice that in the lab-grown meat sphere (which is a completely different space) the first-ever developed lab-grown patty cost Mark Post’s company about $325,000 and 4 years later they were able to bring the cost down to $11 – source: https://www.inverse.com/article/26464-cultured-meat-burger-price
To draw some conclusions, also in light of what we described in the Holi Food’s article, I found this visit truly inspiring for the following reasons:
- Purpose & culture are of pivotal importance to ‘make the impossible, possible’: through all the interactions I had with ‘Impossible people’ (disclaimer: probably a dozen out of 400+ employees) l had the feeling they all thoroughly believe in what the company stands for and they put their very best to achieve the company’s ambitious (and perhaps, at times, impossible) goals.
- Business transparency and approachability leads to incredible results: it was mind-blowing for me to see how openly they share what they do and what goes into their burgers. Walking through the corridors of their R&D facilities and having their scientists showing us all the machineries and talking us through the processes they were using to make their products, felt almost weird, especially compared to other visits of ‘similar’ manufacturing facilities I did in the past. However, in retrospect, it makes a lot of sense. I believe that by now (having being in business for almost 7 years) they are very well ahead in terms of product development (especially from an IP standpoint) that being transparent and approachable is an additional asset that they can leverage to diversify from their competitors.
- Dream big and shoot for the moon (worse case scenario, you end up with the stars) 😉 This was more of a personal reminder. Impossible food was founded in 2011. 7 years in they have developed some incredible plant-based products (and are working on other replacements e.g fish), they have 400+ of highly engaged and passionate employees, raised $1.3B (up-to-date) and are now serving their plant-based burgers in more than 1,000 restaurants across the US directly and counting.
By the end of the tour, it became clear to me that all the Impossible Foods’ people we have met, believe in a better future of food, where plant-based products can replace currently unsustainable productions (e.g meat or fish) without compromising on taste. After trying their products (disclaimer: I love meat and eat it regularly) I think that this is absolutely possible and I believe Impossible Foods is leading/paving the way for creating a new category of delicious plant-based products and more and more companies will follow suit. However, I have the feeling that regardless of new competitors Impossible Foods will keep its competitive edge on their unique R&D approach and, most and foremost, on having built a unique company culture. I believe that in order to attract top-notch people (e.g scientists, executive managers) and ask them to ‘make the impossible possible’, Impossible Foods’ CEO has done a few things right…
I want to conclude this article by quoting one statement I’ve found on their company’s Linkedin profile:
‘we are looking for the very best scientists, engineers, food developers, and business professionals in the world to join our collegial, multi-talented, mission-driven, creative, diverse, and fun-loving team in creating a secure and sustainable food system for the future. Come work with us to change the course of history.’
And I think this sentence beautifully encompasses what Impossible Foods is all about — talented and driven people who want to make this world a better place one plant-based patty at the time!