The plant-based food revolution is firing away on all cylinders. The research has gone from the lab to the kitchen, and is now available in specialty stores and some high end restaurants. The goal is simple, and it is based on economics of food production, it is less expensive to raise plants than livestock. It is also being pushed by big name venture capitalists.

Judging by the long line trying to get in to taste the new burger, it can be said that it was an unqualified success.

Impossible Foods has stepped into the gap, the company has received funding from Singapore-based Temasek, Open Philanthropy, as well as earlier investments from Bill Gates, Vinod Khosla and Horizon Ventures. The latest round of funding raised $75 million bringing total funding to $300 million.

Competition for plant-based meat is heating up with Beyond Meat also in the running. Beyond Meat is already selling its products in Whole Foods and Safeway branches. It is not surprising that Beyond Meat is also supported by almost the same investors as Impossible Foods. The aim remains the same: to provide a viable alternative to real meat, but with the same taste and texture.

Impossible Foods first released its unconventional burgers in 2016. Reviews have noted that the burgers are improving over time, in terms of both taste and texture. One of the first restaurants to offer the Impossible Burger was Momofuku Nishi in New York City. Owned and operated by David Chang, Momofuku Nishi is famous for its Asian fusion menu, and it is definitely not a burger joint. Judging by the long line trying to get in to taste the new burger, it can be said that it was an unqualified success.

Our colleague, William Linthicum enjoyed an Impossible Burger in New York City, said this, “I honestly really enjoyed the Impossible Burger. It looked like and tasted just like an actual beef hamburger and if you hadn’t told me that it was a plant based vegan burger I wouldn’t have known the difference. Just to make sure that my taste buds weren’t lying to me I stopped by my favorite burger place on 48th the next day for lunch and it confirmed my suspicions that they were so similar I probably couldn’t tell the difference if given a blind taste test.”

Plant-Based Food Commercial Success

A plant-based burger.

The first Impossible Burgers had a rubbery texture, and a taste of mushroom with a seared patty which was crisp and well caramelized, and filled with familiar juices. Since then, it has evolved into something which tastes like real meat, and mopping the juices is a pleasure for diners.

The push for more research and development lies in the economics of the food industry. It is expected that by 2050 there will be 9 billion people on the planet, with limited resources for growing beef, pigs and poultry. Replacing the meat on the table is a race which is already reaping benefits.

The secret to making plant-based meat is a soy-based product called heme or leghemogoblin. This produces the beef taste and smell, especially when it is put on grill. Heme is the molecule that brings oxygen through the bloodstream. It is also present in plants in the production of energy.

Impossible Foods created heme in the lab with the use of soybeans and yeast. The yeast serves as the factory, and the heme is filtered from the yeast afterwards. Other ingredients include textured vegetable protein, potatoes, coconut oil, fats, salt, sugar and other additives.

Unlike Beyond Meat, which is distributed by stores, the Impossible Burger is available in 43 premium restaurants. The initial success of the company was earlier noticed by Google Ventures which wanted to purchase it for $200 million. With high-end patrons embracing plant-based food, the next step would be to ramp up production. Impossible Foods recently opened a factory in Oakland, CA, which aims to produce 1 million pounds of plant-based meat every month.

This is a bold new entry into the food industry. A burger with the taste and texture of quality sirloin would have a huge impact in the marketplace, both because of potential cost savings as well as the impact on health and the environment. Stay tuned, this is an industry sector which is going to see a lot of activity and growth in coming years.

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