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Climate change… Understanding the meat of the problem

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Impossible Foods is an innovative food tech company aiming to replace meat with plant-based alternatives.   Their goal is to create 100% plant-based ingredients to make a burger patty that looks, cooks and tastes like ground beef. Alternatives to meat products have a positive impact on the environment by reducing the percentage of land used to produce livestock and growing feed.  Livestock is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than all transportation exhaust combined. [1, 2]

Interestingly, the company is not targeting vegetarians or vegans but instead is focused on meat eaters. This strategic plan focuses on a market that will have the biggest sway in the global shift towards a more environmentally conscious burger. Impossible knows that to change the world, they need to make a burger that everyone will love. The current imitation food items in the market may look like chicken or beef, but taste nothing like it. When meat eaters can’t tell the difference anymore and are content with the nutrition profile and bioavailability of the plant-based products, the product will be a real success.

Impossible Foods is taking advantage of the effects of climate change to successfully obtain funding (approx. $180M), to build their brand, bring on staff, develop a great product and market their product to the public. [3] They benefit from the proliferation of information available to the public on plant based diets and their benefit to the environment.

Early adopters include consumers who are educated to the benefits of eating a mainly plant based diet and are price insensitive.  Increased knowledge and understanding of climate change and the desire to do good is driving these educated customers to an Impossible Burger.

The company’s start and success in New York and California has proven that customers who are aware of the environmental impact of meat are willing to try new alternatives.  Impossible Foods is riding the wave of climate change information and they are getting an advantage because of all the climate change articles being published and paid for by other groups.

Impossible Foods is funded, staffed, product developed and launched in several restaurants.  Now to become a significant player in this market, they must do more.  One significant impediment for Impossible Foods is the Agriculture Industry.   Livestock production contributes to 40% of global gross domestic product and employs 1.3 billion people. [4] Governments have little to no incentive to reduce their GPD or employment rates. Global governments need to see the environmental, financial, and employment opportunities available by transitioning to plant-based food products for human consumption.  Impossible Foods should invest in an outreach program to convince government officials, as well as farmers and their lobbyists, that Impossible Foods is both good for the environment and good for the economy.   The company must dedicate sufficient resources in this effort or risk the likelihood that the big Ag industry will stymie or crush their progress.  Impossible Foods needs to demonstrate that the Agriculture Industry will maintain or grow jobs because farmers will still be needed to produce the plants required for Impossible Foods’ products.  There are many examples of incumbents slowing down the progress of new industry entrants.  One of the first available electric vehicles, the EV-1, is believed to have been crushed by big oil and the auto industry.  Just this year, the egg industry was using unseemly tactics to delay the progress of Just Mayo, a company that developed mayonnaise without eggs. [5]

After Impossible Foods has successfully partnered with the agriculture industry they need to lobby congress to reduce subsidies on products that are harmful to the environment and/or redirect the subsidies to climate positive plants.  Eliminating these traditional subsidies will ultimately raise the price of animal based foods and make an Impossible Burger more competitively priced.

Just making a great tasting burger is not good enough.  Impossible Foods is a pioneer in the plant based food industry and to date is getting many positive reviews.  However, to ultimately succeed they need to form alliances with what could be viewed as their biggest competition. They must strategically remove the friction associated with the incumbent agriculture industry and work with the government to realize their full potential and effect.

Word Count: 696

Endnotes:

  1. Impossible Foods. 2016.Impossible Foods. [ONLINE] Available at:http://impossiblefoods.com/faq/. [Accessed 02 November 2016].

“Producing the Impossible Burger requires a quarter of the water used to produce the same burger from a cow, 1/20th of the land and 1/8th of the greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, switching from a conventional burger made from cows to a quarter-pound Impossible Burger saves as much water as a 10-minute shower. It eliminates the greenhouse gases emitted by driving 18 miles in an average car. And it liberates 75 square feet of land for wildlife.”

  1. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations;Ecosystems2012, DOI: 10.1007/s10021-011-9517-8.
  2. Crunchbase. 2016.Impossible Foods. [ONLINE] Available at:https://www.crunchbase.com/organization/impossible-foods#/entity. [Accessed 02 November 2016].
  3. Science & Space. 2016.New Study Shows the Major Environmental Impact of Meat Production | TIME.com. [ONLINE] Available at:http://science.time.com/2013/12/16/the-triple-whopper-environmental-impact-of-global-meat-production/. [Accessed 02 November 2016].
  4. Fox News. 2016.USDA says egg industry group inappropriately targeted ‘Just Mayo’ company | Fox News. [ONLINE] Available at:http://www.foxnews.com/leisure/2016/10/07/usda-says-egg-indsutry-group-inappropriately-targeted-just-mayo-company/. [Accessed 02 November 2016].

5 thoughts on “Climate change… Understanding the meat of the problem

  1. Very interesting!
    Given they are still a startup going up against some very large companies, how do you suggest they approach their lobbying efforts? It feels to me like if it becomes a lobbying arms-race they are at a significant disadvantage given their limited capital relative to the companies interested in maintaining the current subsidies.

    Also, have you ever tried one of their burgers? How was it?

  2. DM,
    Thanks for bringing up this issue. As a burger-lover, this article got me very interested. I think another key point that might enhance the adoption of this burger is that it is actually healthier than a meat burger. The According to the impossible foods website, the Impossible Burger delivers bioavailable protein and iron comparable to conventional beef, and it has no cholesterol, hormones or antibiotics. (http://www.impossiblefoods.com/faq/) This would make the burger more appealing to me, a health-conscious burger lover, and I think to many others as well.

  3. Thanks for bringing an interesting angle to light on this topic. I found your discussion of lobbying efforts to reduce subsidies for environmentally harmful products and / or shifting subsidies to climate-positive agriculture to be particularly interesting. Do you think this is really feasible in partnership with Big Ag? Though I agree that such successful lobbies would help make sustainable foods more competitively priced and this in theory would shift where the market sits on the demand curve, I am curious as to whether a company such as Impossible Foods has the scale and capability to be the right sponsor for such a movement. I find the work you detail very inspiring and appreciate that you also call out the potential threat of being stymied by Big Ag in these efforts. My sense is that Impossible will need to continue to build a niche market, develop the best product for that market, and allow consumer sentiment to evolve from early adopter cities on the coasts while they’re in growth phase. As Dave points out above, there’s a significant amount of distrust in the market for meat substitutes and I wonder if Impossible is ready to take on that market sentiment. Here more than other places, product seems to come first.

  4. I find the food tech industry extremely interesting and I can’t believe more work isn’t being done to research ways to innovate all aspects of food production and preparation. Some might point to the seemingly difficult upfront capital and research costs (just like in our Indigo case), but I am actually more amazed there hasn’t been more work done in engineered nutrition. Why is processed food almost always less healthy AND less tasty than the natural version? Humans have figured out how to build incredible tools, computers, machines, medicine, and chemical compounds. Food has been around since the very beginning of time. Why have we had almost no innovation in food processing beyond cooking and preserving?

  5. This article stated that ‘to ultimately succeed they need to form alliances with what could be viewed as their biggest competition. They must strategically remove the friction associated with the incumbent agriculture industry and work with the government to realize their full potential and effect.’

    I disagree.

    In order to realise their full potential, they need a marketing and branding strategy. It’s not the agriculture industry or the government which is preventing success, but instead that consumers don’t want to eat this food. Hence why Impossible has sought collaborations with top chefs [1] to improve their branding: they’re trying to make consumers want it. But you already recognised this, in the your phrase that ‘Impossible knows that to change the world, they need to make a burger that everyone will love.’ They now need to make us love it.

    [1] http://www.bizjournals.com/sanfrancisco/news/2016/10/12/impossible-foods-s-f-celebrity-chefs-burgersvegan.html

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