Patrick O. Brown, CEO of Impossible Foods, recently spoke at Web Summit, a virtual conference attended by 100,000 people, about the future of food—which he sees as devoid of all animal products. “Our mission is to completely replace the use of animals as a food technology by 2035. We’re dead serious about it and we believe it’s doable,” Brown said during the conference. “I was confident that we would succeed when I launched this company, and now I’m completely confident. It’s game over for the incumbent [meat] industry—they just don’t realize it yet.”
The beginning of the end
Brown founded Impossible Foods in 2011 and launched the company’s flagship product, the plant-based Impossible Burger, at upscale restaurants in 2016. The Impossible Burger is now on the menu at upwards of 17,000 restaurants nationwide, including major fast-food chains such as Burger King, White Castle, Red Robin, and restaurants within the Disney empire. In 2019, Impossible Burger launched into the retail sector, quickly becoming the best-selling packaged food item at its first retail partner Gelson’s Markets in Southern California. From day one, Brown has held steadfast to his mission of making animal-derived foods obsolete in the next 15 years, a goal the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic quickly moved forward into the realm of possibility.
The COVID-19 pandemic pushed Impossible Foods to aggressively expand its retail footprint, landing the Impossible Burger at more than 8,000 retail locations, including Kroger, Trader Joe’s, Target, and Walmart by fall 2020. And with plant-based meat more readily available, purchasing habits shifted, with sales of refrigerated plant-based meat sales skyrocketing by 241 percent (compared to last year) during the peak pandemic food-buying period in mid-March and continuing to grow by 113 percent through April.
Meanwhile, the meat industry didn’t fare as well during the pandemic as its workers increasingly contracted the virus while working shoulder-to-shoulder, leading to slaughterhouse closures nationwide in April and meat shortages thereafter. As of December 4, there have been at least 43,000 positive COVID-19 cases tied to meat processing facilities and at least 222 workers have died as a result according to The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting.
A new food system
Even before the pandemic struck, independent think tank RethinkX predicted in a 2019 report that the animal agriculture industry would fall into a “death spiral” by 2035. To replace it, RethinkX identified a “Food-as-Software” system—similar to what Impossible Foods is currently creating—that is 100 times more land efficient, 20 times more time efficient, and 10 times more water efficient, all while producing significantly less waste.
This month, Impossible Foods released its 2020 Impact Report titled “Turn Back the Clock” detailing how its plant-based Impossible Sausage—the second product it released after the Impossible Burger—is vastly eco-friendlier than raising pigs for pork. Compared to pork-based sausage in the US, Impossible Sausage generates 71 percent less greenhouse gases, requires 41 percent less land area in a year, has a 79 percent lower water footprint, and generates 57 percent less aquatic eutrophication.
“By far, the biggest factor in climate change and the collapse of global biodiversity is the use of animals as a food technology. Nothing comes close. We have to get rid of it,” Brown said. “It’s much more important than replacing fossil fuels in terms of benefits for the world.”
The road to 2035
Throughout the meteoric growth of Impossible Foods, Brown has reiterated that the company is not just creating consumer products but new technologies that will drastically change the way food is produced. After tackling beef with Impossible Burger, the company moved on to pork, the world’s most consumed meat, with the January 2020 launch of Impossible Pork and Impossible Sausage—a formed plant-based pork sausage that is currently offered by Starbucks locations nationwide. In October, the company revealed that it is working on its first non-meat product, a dairy-identical “functional” milk made from plants that it has yet to name. Impossible Foods is also leveraging its knowledge and technology to develop alternatives to shrimp, fish, and whole cuts of meat such as steak.
“What if you could wave a magic wand and make the animal-based food industry disappear? We could turn back the clock on global warming, reverse the global collapse of biodiversity and halt species extinction, deforestation, water pollution, and our public health crisis?” Brown asks. “Our planet needs that magic wand. So Impossible Foods is inventing it—a new technology platform for transforming plants into delicious, nutritious, affordable meat, fish, and dairy foods, replacing the old animal-based technology in the global food system.”
To date, Impossible Foods has raised $1.5 billion in investment capital to fund its mission and recently launched the Impossible Investigator Project, a hiring initiative that will double the number of scientists working at the company to accelerate its mission of disrupting animal agriculture on a global scale.