Update on 1 Aug 2017 from Jenny Lopez:
Bill Gates became the world's richest man by tackling seemingly impossible problems - so it should come as no surprise that he believes in a startup whose goal is to create the impossible. In this case, the audacious goal isn't getting a computer in every home, it's creating an environmentally responsible meat substitute that's indistinguishable from the real thing.
Finding a suitable meat substitute that actually looks, cooks, and tastes like the real thing has always proven to be difficult. Until now. So claims Impossible Foods, a Silicon Valley start-up that is developing an entirely plant-based burger patty that imitates one made from ground beef, one so realistic that it ‘bleeds’.
This ‘plant blood’ is created through the inclusion of heme, a molecule found in high concentration in animal blood, which has a distinct iron flavour. However, rather than sourcing this from animals, Impossible Foods extracts heme from the roots of legume plants, which it then adds to the burger.
The company is part of a wave of well-funded start-ups seeking to replicate meats, eggs, cheese and other animal-based foods with plant matter. Its aim is not only to upend the trillion-dollar animal farming industry, but also to create a more sustainable – yet better tasting – burger experience amid mounting environmental pressures.
A leader in this industry, Impossible Foods was listed on CNBC’s Disruptor 50 List in 2015, which features private companies “whose innovations are revolutionising the business landscape” and “have potential to become billion-dollar businesses.”
Image credit: Impossible Foods
The rise of Impossible Foods and its potentially game-changing product correlates with the growing interest in and sales of plant-based, sustainable, and more cruelty-free food options; the faux meat market is predicted to be worth over £4 billion by 2019, up from $553 million in 2012.
Impossible Foods’ rejection of Google’s $300 million buyout offer – which was reportedly too low – is also an indicator of the rising interest in investment in new sources of protein. It is understood that Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Google Ventures and other notable investors have already backed the company with $75 million in funding.
It is important to note that Impossible Foods is challenging consumer behaviour from a new angle: while food giants already offer a variety of meat alternatives to the small percentage of those who live off a plant-based diet, Impossible Foods wants to win over the larger portion of meat-loving people providing plant-based meats and dairy products that taste just as good as those made from conventional sources. They accomplish this by understanding how to recreate – and improve on - the taste of meat from a molecular level. This approach is also different from “growing” meat in a laboratory using tissue engineering, which involves culturing cells taken from live animals.
There are still many hurdles separating Impossible Foods’ burger and the wide-scale disruption of the animal farming industry. For example, how will consumers react to lab-grown food? Is it technology or marketing that poses the bigger problem for changing consumer behaviour?
Wall Street Journal (2014, October 7) The Secret of These New Veggie Burgers: Plant Blood