Impossible Foods is taking the meat-free world by storm so when their CEO was in Singapore, we chased him down and asked him all the questions that were on our mind (and chowed down).
When Impossible Foods launched in Singapore last month, we tracked the company’s super inspiring founder and CEO Pat Brown for a Q&A session that we will eventually turn in to a podcast. But for now, we couldn’t wait to share all the goodies he disclosed so here you have a transcript of the talk. Long, but insightful and in it he shares how the brand came to be, where he hopes to take (including up and coming territories) and. We were also got to try more than a few mouthfuls of the burgers that smell, feel, taste, and BLEED like the real thing, except they’re not – it’s essentially plant-based sorcery.
But if you’re looking for the ‘in a nutshell’ version, peep our video below…
It looks life beef, it tastes like beef, it cooks like beef… but its made from plants?! Welcome to the Impossible. And meet the crazy inspiring scientist behind it all. Enjoy all your favourite meat dishes but with a fraction of the pain for the planet. And check out our list of where to try in Singapore, you're welcome – https://greenisthenewblack.com/impossible-foods-brings-the-impossible-a-bleeding-veggie-burger-to-singapore-finally/#LittleGreenSteps #LiveMoreConiscously #ImpossibleFoods
Posted by Green Is The New Black on Friday, 15 March 2019
GITNB: We’d love to hear how you came up with the idea for Impossible and how you got started, and a little bit about your background?
Impossible: My background is that I have been sort of a medical scientist for 35 or more years. I was a Professor at Stanford in the Medical School doing basic research that was sort of like trying to understand how genes work, how cells work, developing new ways to understand cancer and other diseases and so forth. Nothing to with food. I really, at the time, to be honest, and it’s embarrassing, I thought the food was like the most boring thing, okay? I had a Sabbatical and I basically was using it to try to identify the most important problem in the world that I could contribute to solving. It took me almost no time to realize that it was no contest about it, why is nobody talking about this? They would all acknowledge and, in fact, the UN Environmental Program published a study about this, that this is the biggest environmental problem in the world. But the reason that people didn’t want to touch it, I think, is that people just felt like there’s no solution. You can’t tell people what to eat.
China tried to do that two years ago, they’ve told their citizens to cut their meat and dairy consumption by 50%. What happened? Nothing. The demand just kept going up, it didn’t go down. These environmentalists at Paris, part of the problem, it was a perfect illustration, they knew the problem and they all went out and had steak for dinner. Okay? And that taught me a very important lesson which is that the way to solve this problem, it’s not going to be by educating people. It’s not going to be by twisting arms and trying to persuade people. The only way to do it is to recognize that, the problem is that we’re using the wrong technology to produce these foods. We’re using this pre-historic technology that never evolved to be a meat production system. Cows, they were not evolving to be eaten. They’re incredibly inefficient but nobody thought of food as a technology, as an opportunity for innovation.
“We’re not going to solve it by educating people or persuasion.”
I then realized that this was the problem that I basically was going to devote probably the rest of my career working on and that we’re not going to solve it by educating people or persuasion and we needed to treat it as a technology problem. The fact that I’m a biochemist basically meant “okay, I think this is a solvable problem. So I’m going to jump in with both feet.” I have to do it as a company, as a commercial company, because the only way to solve it is to beat the incumbent industry in the marketplace by making products that are not just way more sustainable, but they have to be more delicious, they have to have greater nutritional value for consumers, more affordable, more versatile. That’s what we had to focus on. That was the research.
We put together, really the best science team, by far ever to work on food. And one of the best teams, I would say, in the entire biotech world, if not the best. The reason it was so easy to do is that if you want to recruit a scientist, basically give him an incredibly important and incredibly difficult problem and the best scientists in the world will come flocking to you because that’s what they live for. So we put together that team and we basically set about studying meat as if it were a disease, more or less, trying to understand molecularly, what makes meat work as a food. That enabled us to come up with very elegant ways to solve the problem because we basically figured out how meat does what it does.
It turned out that, essentially, everything that was required is something we can easily get from plants and so forth once you knew the tricks and all natural ingredients. We don’t have to put fake flavours in our product because meat doesn’t put fake flavours in its products, it just uses simple nutrients and stuff like that but there’s, you know, a little bit of magic there.
GITNB: Impossible started in the U.S. and then you went to Hong Kong announcing, so why did you decide to make Asia your second big region and market?
Impossible: Yeah, very good question but it’s a pretty straightforward answer. More than 40% of meat consumption, globally, is in Asia. It’s also the region where, well Asia and sort of central and southern Africa are the areas where the demand is growing the fastest, okay?
“More than 40% of meat consumption, globally, is in Asia.”
I forgot to say the mission of the company, which I think is important, is to completely replace animals in the food system by 2035. And that means that we want to be very strategic in developing a strategy that maximizes the degree to which the speed and magnitude of the reduction in demand for these foods. Since so much of the demand is driving deforestation and having a hugely destructive impact as in Asia, we had to get to Asia as soon as possible.
Singapore and Hong Kong are where we decided to launch because these are two cities that really, first of all, they’re international cities. There is a lot of interest in culinary innovation and because they’re also very multicultural crossroads. It’s kind of like a crash course in Asian cuisine and taste profiles and so forthcoming here. So, anyway, there you go.
GITNB: So do you know what your next city or country is going to be?
Impossible: We’re simultaneously kind of in the process going through the regulatory hoops that are required when you’re introducing a new food in a new country and, in some cases, it takes two years. And in some cases, it’s much faster. And that’s probably the number one gating factor for our international launches. I’d say sort of Australia, New Zealand, we have very good relationships with partners and people in those countries. We have investors who are very well connected in China and a lot of potential connections there. There’s a long regulatory process for China and Canada…it’s basically as soon as we are legally able to introduce our product, we will leap to find partners to enable us to launch in those markets.
GITNB: Are there any misconceptions or about people who are meat-eaters that you’ve come across?
Impossible: Oh sure. It’s just what you would expect. Meat-eaters deeply believe that it’s impossible to make a product from plants that will satisfy their craving for meat and the biggest barrier we face is this very strong preconceived notion that this will taste terrible. It will taste like every veggie burger I’ve ever tasted which is not at all like meat and not very palatable. Really, there are two ways that we get over it. Number one, if we work with chefs who are not only very highly respected but regarded as meat icons, such as many of the chefs that we’re working within Singapore and that we launched with, that helps a lot. Consumers can see these are people whose reputation depends on delivering great food to people. They’re never going to put their reputations at risk serving something that they can’t stand behind. If they’re serving our product in place of meat, it’s kind of an implicit endorsement that’s super valuable. That’s one thing.
“We work with chefs who are not only very highly respected but regarded as meat icons.”
The other is just inducing people to try the product. We have a very very high repeat rate. Once consumers have tried it, their likelihood of becoming repeat customers is extremely high. Also becoming advocates. So the trick is to get them over that first hurdle that this is actually going to be delicious as meat not a veggie burger.
GITNB: So our big campaign is to empower people to take #LittleGreenSteps so what are your favourite little green steps or you can even just say like, “Try Impossible burger,” whatever.
Impossible: I would say, overwhelmingly, the most important thing you can do to reduce your environmental impact is to cut animal products out of your diet. I mean if even if to some little degree, you make a substitution or you know reduce consumption, particularly of beef which is the most destructive and fish also, that has a huge impact. Buying our burger instead of a cow burger saves the equivalent of driving 17 miles in the average American car and probably 50 miles in the average Singaporean car because American cars are more gas guzzlers. So a lot of people kind of look to their energy, you know replace the light bulb with an LED bulb. Great. You should definitely do that but replacing a tiny fraction of the animal-based foods in your diet will have a massively greater impact on your environmental footprint. So that’s one thing.
GITNB: I feel like so many people are not aware or they are and they just choose not to do anything about it. So why do you think that is and what do you think the best way to convert people without preaching as it’s a very fine line?
Preaching gets you nowhere. So start out with that. Nobody wants to be preached at, it’s completely counter-productive. You have to offer something to consumers that they feel this is a better choice for them. One thing that we’ve found though that was very interesting about meat-eaters is that…our whole company…we are focused on making meat-eaters happy. That’s what we’re all about.
“Preaching gets you nowhere. Nobody wants to be preached at, it’s completely counter-productive.”
One thing that we learned, which was quite interesting, but then it really made sense when you think about it, is that meat-eaters around the world, in every part of the U.S. and around the world, they love their meat. They don’t want to stop eating meat. They don’t like the fact that it is made from dead animals that are, you know, raised the way they are pretty much across the board. We’ve talked to thousands of them and every time I give a talk to an audience I basically ask them, “Okay, is part of the reason that you love meat the fact that it’s made from dead animals?” And no hands go up. They love meat but they’d actually prefer it if it could be made a better way but, up until now, they’ve never imagined that was possible. The interesting thing about it is that they want to make the switch, they just don’t want to sacrifice the pleasure. You really have to, uncompromisingly, deliver the deliciousness and nutrition and then there’s a very strong propensity to switch and stay switched.
GITNB: Final words or big vision or dreams for the future? I guess your mission, you said, for 2035 but I guess what do you kinda see?
Impossible: What would happen, suppose you could snap your fingers and the entire industry went away, okay? Immediately, atmospheric CO2 concentrations will come down and there are very good scientific data for this. Just the recovery of biomass on the land that is actively used raising animals, which about 50% of Earth’s land air, literally 50% of Earth’s land air, is used either for grazing livestock or for growing feed crops. Suddenly, that huge area of land can be used to restore habitat and increase biodiversity or recover biodiversity and, not only that, in the process of that biomass reaccumulating, the atmospheric CO2 levels will come down. You’ll actually, just recovering back to the state pre animal agriculture, will pull 17 years worth of fossil fuels emissions out of the atmosphere. This is science, basically.
When we have succeeded, and this is what’s driving us, is that overwhelmingly the human footprint is animal agriculture. 50% of the Earth’s land surface. Every city on Earth could fit in half a percent of Earth’s land area so the footprint of humanity on Earth, both in terms of resource usage, water usage, pollution, habitat destruction is animal agriculture. You’ll have vastly reduced human impact on the earth. You’ll actually be able to start saving species that are on the brink of extinction from extinction because the overwhelming driver of extinction is habitat loss and degradation. The second driver, for many species, is that people who are raising livestock, hate predators. Within a wide swathe around anywhere where there are cattle, basically, if you wander onto that land you’re dead. It’ll have a huge impact in terms of enabling wildlife population to recover, plant and animal biodiversity. It’s gonna be huge. I mean, we used to say in the beginning that we’re gonna measure our product by satellite images of Earth basically. We want to massively change the way Earth looks from space. Yeah, that’s it.
GITNB: Just a side-question? Are you a vegetarian?
Impossible: Yes, I’ve been vegetarian for 45 years and vegan for like 20 years so forth. Just what you’re saying, I am not an evangelist. I would be if I thought it worked but all it does is annoy people so I feel like, you know, that’s not my mode. Anyway…