While reports of COVID-19 outbreaks have shut down factories or disrupted supply chains for the traditional meat industry, plant-based meat company Impossible Foods has found itself expanding its reach -- this time through a new partnership with Starbucks.
The coffee chain announced this week it will be featuring the Impossible Breakfast Sandwich on its summer menu.
"Something like one-third of all the 18- to 29-year-olds in the country hit a Starbucks at least once a quarter," David Lee, Impossible Foods' chief financial officer, told Cheddar. "And so for us to be available in this way, to have nearly 20,000 locations serve our Impossible Sausage products, is a wonderful milestone for us."
Lee explained that Impossible's co-manufacturing partnerships, such as the one it shares with food supplier OSI Group, provides enough scalability to supply the market for its meat alternatives.
"It means that we can meet the large demand we expect from Starbucks, Burger King, many other partners, but also a really rapid rollout in grocery stores, which we began to speed up sometime around March or so this year," he said.
The CFO was also confident the company was addressing challenges from the coronavirus pandemic by selling Impossible Burgers that can be delivered straight to customers' homes. He reported that grocery sales of its products had grown 30 times over since March when most stay-at-home orders began, in addition to the orders made directly to Impossible.
"The theme has been scaling to meet unprecedented demand. As a result we feel relatively well-prepared to handle how this current pandemic has changed the way meat-eaters like to get their meat," he said. "We're seeing folks order it directly from us to be shipped to their home, which is why we created our direct-to-consumer business."
Still, Impossible Foods has had to weather the pandemic like many other businesses, including the meatpacking industry. According to Lee, however, the stark differences in the businesses give plant-based meat an advantage.
"Unlike many of those unfortunate meat plants, we bypass a lot of the problems they face," he noted. "We don't grow animals, slaughter them, transport them, process them, so we don't have the same challenging conditions the meat industry faces."
Lee also agreed with Impossible Foods founder and CEO Pat Brown, who predicted on Tuesday that the meat industry will be facing its own extinction in just 15 years.
"I believe in the meat-eater," Lee said. "We meat-eaters are pretty sophisticated. You give us a better product that hits the spot, that's better for our health, that's better for the world -- we vote with our stomachs."
"I think the consumer will determine the future and will determine it pretty quickly."
In March, Impossible raised $500 million in Series F funding but despite the aggressive scaling and partnerships Lee described, he said there are no current plans to join fellow plant-based meat company, Beyond, as a public company.