The first Impossible Burger debuted in 2016 when it was introduced to Chef David Chang’s NYC restaurant, Momofuku Nishi. In an unexpected twist, Impossible Burger 2.0 was introduced at a consumer electronics expo in Las Vegas earlier this year. Wearable gadgets, and the latest gaming and television technology are all standard fare at CES, which attracts 180,000 people from 155 countries, but this year it was the plant-based burger that captured attention and awards.
The Impossible Burger Showcases Plant-Based Food at CES Tech Fest
The inclusion of the plant-based beef alternative marked a first in the event’s history. “CES has been around since the late 1960s and they have never launched a food product in their annual roster of change-the-world technologies—until today,” said Rachel Konrad of Impossible Foods.
While it may have been an unconventional setting for the unveiling, it was clearly the right one. Digital Trends announced the Impossible Burger claimed both their “Emerging Tech” award, and “Top Tech Winner” of the entire event. Engadget crowned the Impossible Burger the “Most Unexpected Product,” “Most Impactful Product,” and “Best of the Best” at CES 2019.
The widespread interest in plant-based food (particularly at an event that does not traditionally focus on either food or plants) represents a huge stride forward for the mission of Impossible Foods:
To drastically reduce humanity’s destructive impact on the global environment by completely replacing the use of animals as a food production technology. We intend to accomplish this mission within two decades by creating the world’s most delicious, nutritious, affordable and sustainable meat, fish and dairy foods directly from plants.
While I’d like to emphatically remind everyone that meat production is not inherently destructive (agroecologist Joel Salatin calls the proper management of pasture-raised herbivores “the most historically normal way to build soil;” it is capable of simultaneously restoring damaged landscapes and providing nutritious food). Still, the response to the Impossible Burger is an important reminder that the current, conventional global meat “production technology” is far from normal and completely unsustainable.
By providing a realistic meat-like alternative, Impossible Burger is positioning itself to cater to the “Middle-Greens”—Freya Williams’ title for that two-thirds of the population that is sympathetic to environmental causes, but generally lacks the conviction to drastically change their lives, by giving up juicy burgers, for instance. The Impossible Burger allows Middle-Greens to avoid the choice. “Despite being formulated from plant proteins,” writes Engadget Senior Editor Andrew Tarantola, “it looks, tastes, cooks and chews like real beef but at a significantly lower environmental (and caloric) cost.”
“By shrinking the flavor gap between real meat and fake meat, Impossible is making it easier for everyone to make more environmentally conscious food choices,” explains Drew Prindle, Digital Trends’ Emerging Technologies Editor, “and that’s a big deal.”
It certainly is—not just for Impossible Foods, but also for those growing, selling, and distributing the coconuts, potatoes, soy, and wheat that comprise “impossible” plant-based foods. The US retail sales growth of meat substitute products roughly doubled, from under 4% in 2012 to nearly 8% in 2015. Last year, US sales of vegan foods grew at 10 times the rate of overall food sales. UK supermarket giant Tesco reported that vegan food was “the fastest growing culinary trend” of 2018, and The Economist has predicted 2019 will be “the year of the vegan.”
This rising market demand and consumer interest, combined with Impossible Food’s innovative use of soy leghemoglobin (heme), which allows the burgers to cook and bleed like real beef, have garnered strong support from investors. As of April of last year, the start-up (which now employs over 200 people) had raised $396 million in debt and equity—including big-name investors like Bill Gates, Open Philanthropy Project, Khosla Ventures, and Horizons Ventures—cementing the company as the best-funded alternative protein startup on the market.
As the market for plant-based foods continues to grow, so will the opportunities for growers and suppliers of the whole foods from which the products are made.