By Rebecca Heilweil
There’s no shortage of competitors in the growing plant-based meat alternative industry. In May, Beyond Meat saw the most successful public offering of the year. Tyson Meats also ditched its shares in the company, and now has plans for its own alternative protein. Nestlé has its own plant-based “Incredible Burger” on the way, and companies like Lightlife and Good Catch Foods also have their hats in the ring.
Amid the searing competition, Impossible Foods doesn’t appear too troubled. The company just announced a $300 million funding round two days ago. It’s also expanding its “Impossible Whopper” deal with Burger King to three more cities. But the manufacturer of the plant-based meat alternative is still biding its time on a public offering. Impossible Foods CFO David Lee told Cheddar that the company is in “no rush to go public.” Still, he discussed the company’s plans for expansion and hinted at Impossible Foods’ plans for a first foray into retail later this year.
“I think Beyond Meat’s IPO is a great validation that both investors and the mass meat eater market really want a better way to serve a global demand. We have a $1.5 to $1.7 trillion global market for meat that hasn’t had the level of innovation it deserves,” said Lee, adding that “we’re also excited for ourselves to remain private.”
Newer plant-based meat manufacturers don’t only compete with traditional vegetarian-friendly brands like Morningstar Farms and Boca Foods. To succeed, they’re also trying to win over meat lovers and must face the animal-protein giants as well. As Beyond Meat CEO Ethan Brown told Cheddar earlier this month, “We don’t necessarily want to be owned by a large protein company. We’d like to be a large protein company.”
Impossible Foods’ most recent funding round was led by Temasek and Horizon Ventures (both previous investors), along with an impressive roster of celebrity investors including Jay-Z, Ruby Rose, Kal Penn, and Serena Williams, who join Bill Gates. Currently the company’s total fundraising tops $700 million.
But new funding means addressing existing manufacturing and scalability challenges, especially given recent restaurants complaints of shortages in Impossible Burger meat, as reported by Eater and other outlets. More recently, restaurants in Delaware reported that they, too, had run out of stock.
“The thing about Impossible Foods is that we had designed long ago a manufacturing scalability so we could drop our process in nearly any box,” said Lee. “Our special ingredient ー heme, which we make ourselves ー is something that we are in control of.” Lee added the company is open to partnering with co-manufacturers to help crank out more product.
Heme is the iron-rich molecule that provides the juicy flavor of beef (or other meats). Impossible Foods' method of producing and incorporating the ingredient from plants is intellectual property the company is eager to protect.
Unlike Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods has primarily focused on opportunities in food service and restaurants. “Food service alone represents an enormous, larger opportunity,” said Lee. “Our approach was to be in the hands of great chefs so that meat-eaters would have the best chance of having a great Impossible Burger and to expand our awareness before we go to retail.”
Impossible Foods is now sold in more than 7,000 restaurants, and a nationwide deal with Burger King could help Impossible Foods secure spots in another 7,000 more. Qdoba and Red Robin also have added Impossible products to their menus.
“In Hong Kong, it’s in a dumpling and a bao. It’s in meatloaf. In Boston, it’s served chain-wide at Clover as a breakfast sausage patty,” said Lee. “It can be anything the chef wants it to be.”
But the company is also planning for a retail rollout later this year, which could increase competition for shelf space with Beyond Meat. Lee wouldn’t say at which stores we might first see Impossible Foods products but did hint that all major retailers are interested.
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