Challenger to Watch 2017: Impossible Foods

Challenger to Watch 2017: Impossible Foods

Tackling an impossible challenge, head-on.

 

The “impossible” in Impossible Foods refers to the task their brilliant founder, Stanford professor Pat Brown, took on five years ago: to make a plant-based burger that tastes as good as the best meat patty on the market.

Now that Pat and his team are close to achieving that goal, and their Oakland, CA plant is ready to crank out large quantities of patties, the next impossible challenge rears its head: how to convince America to make the switch. That’s what makes this challenger so fascinating to watch.

Impossible Foods is a classic belief-driven organization. It is the answer to the question, “What single initiative can have the biggest impact on climate change?” The answer is, persuading all of us to stop eating meat. At least meat made from animals.

Meat generates as much greenhouse gas as all the world’s cars, trains, planes and ships combined. Chicken has 40 times the climate impact per unit of protein than a chick pea. Red meat is higher still. Meanwhile, global meat consumption is on the rise

The right to slap a juicy cow-meat patty on the grill is about as American as the right to keep and bear arms — and just as hard to challenge.

The sense of impending doom fueled the resolve of Pat and his team. Working at the molecular level, they identified heme as the secret to meat’s taste. They figured out how to synthesize it using plants, and add all the juicy bloodiness of beef. Here’s a wonderful little film that describes some of their journey.

Now, Pat might have a decent-sized business if he simply convinced those who share his concerns to buy the Impossible burger. But that won’t be enough. To make the kind of impact on climate change that is required, Impossible Foods needs to find tens of millions of converts in the heartland of America — they must “cross the chasm”, as they say here in Silicon Valley.

This won’t be easy. The right to slap a juicy cow-meat patty on the grill is about as American as the right to keep and bear arms — and just as hard to challenge. It will take some very juicy marketing to make the Impossible burger a tailgating staple.

Challenging ideas, something out of nothing, lover of progress. Mark Barden is a partner at eatbigfish and based in San Francisco.