Meat from plants—Does Asia have an appetite for Impossible Foods?

The Californian plant-based food technology company has just launched in Singapore with a mission to convert Asia’s increasingly meat-loving population to meat that isn’t meat. Do they have the right recipe for this region? Eco-Business asked company founder Pat Brown.

 

By Robin Hicks, Eco-Business

13 March 2019

 

It was at the 2015 United Nations climate change conference in Paris that the scale of the task ahead of him really hit home to Pat Brown, founder and chief executive of Impossible Foods, the Californian food technology company that launched its plant-based meat range in Singapore last week.

 

The Paris conference, probably the most important climate event of the millenium, was attended by the world’s leading environmentalists, who are more aware than anyone of the massive impact of meat production on forests, water, biodiversity and climate change, recalls Brown. “But they went out and had steak for dinner,” he says.

 

“I realised [from the Paris talks] that you won’t accomplish anything by asking people to change their diets,” he said at the launch event on Wednesday at Potato Head Folk, one of 8 restaurants in Singapore where Impossible Foods fodder is now on the menu.

 

Brown’s mission is to completely remove animals from the human food chain by 2035, and the only way to do that is to create food that looks, feels and tastes exactly like meat, he believes.

 

“We can only eliminate animals as a food production technology if we deliver more value to consumers [than animal products],” said the former Stanford biochemistry professor and pediatrician.

 

To do that, Impossible Foods has a team of 350 people, 109 of them scientists like Brown, working on solving what the company’s founder calls “the world’s most urgent environmental problem”.

 

The secret ingredient to meat tasting like meat is heme, an essential molecule found in every living plant and animal. It is most abundant in animals, but Impossible Foods makes heme from plants.

 

On the back of investors that include Singapore government investment firm Temasek Holdings, Impossible Foods launched in Hong Kong and Macau, its first international markets, in 2018. The brand is now on the menu in 5,000 restaurants worldwide, up from 50 when it launched in 2011.

 

Most of them are in the United States. But as 40 per cent of the world’s meat is eaten in Asia, and Asia’s burgeoning middle classes are the world’s biggest new consumers of meat, this region is critical to Brown achieving his mission.

 

In this interview with Eco-Business, Brown talks about why more people are switching from meat to meatless, why replacing animals with plants to produce food is better for the planet, and taking on the might of the meat industry lobby.

 

How easy was it to get funding for Impossible Foods? ...

 

What’s the key thing about your products that will make people switch from meat to meatless? ...

 

Have you done a Pepsi Challenge with Impossible Burger, pitting it against a Big Mac and a Whopper? ...

 

How is Impossible Foods taking on the might of the meat industry lobby in the US? ...

 

What’s your plan for taking on competitors, such as Beyond Meat, which is already established in Singapore? ...

 

Why has Impossible Foods chosen Singapore as one of its first markets in Asia? ...

 

Your product isn’t cheap. At Potato Head Folk, and Impossible Dream is $27 (US$20) and The Impossible Chedda is $23. Is Impossible Foods out of reach for the less privileged? ...

 

What about developing Asia where meat consumption is growing faster than anywhere—how can you make an impact there? ...

 

The latest version of the Impossible Burger has soy protein in it. How do you ensure that the supply chain of all of your products is sustainable and deforestation-free? ...

 

Do you have any advice for young sustainability entrepreneurs? ...

 

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