Impossible Foods, the maker of the meatless “burger that bleeds,” just got a fresh infusion of cash from some of the wealthiest people on the planet.
Bill Gates, a co-founder of Microsoft, and Li Ka-shing, Asia’s third-richest man, are among the investors backing the firm in its quest to get a plant-based burger to market. They were joined by Temasek, the Singapore state-owned investment company; Khosla Ventures; and Open Philanthropy Project, a investment fund led by Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz.
Impossible Foods is locked in a race against another startup, Beyond Meat, to get a high-quality, plant-based burger into the mainstream. These aren’t your average veggie burgers—the companies have raised hundreds of millions of dollars to develop a product aimed to look, taste, and cook exactly like ground beef. And you won’t find them tucked away in supermarket freezer sections. Beyond Meat (which also counts Gates among its backers) is selling its product alongside the real thing in the meat section, while Impossible Foods has been getting its product—made with soy leghemoglobin—into high-profile restaurants.
Beyond Meat tripled its potential customer reach last week, and added to the pressure on Impossible Foods, when it added Kroger—the largest US grocery chain—to the list of retailers carrying its product. It had previously inked deals with Whole Foods and Safeway.
In March, Impossible Foods—which has gotten more than $250 million in funding since its founding in 2011—announced it was finishing construction on a facility in Oakland, California, that could produce as much as 1 million lbs. (454,000 kg) of meatless meat a month.
Market research suggests that while the most devoted American meat eaters won’t turn their backs on beef burgers and steaks, they would at least be willing to try a plant-based product claimed to taste just as good. In other words, there’s a window for these new food companies to steal away market share from the beef industry and they’re going for it.
But they had better hurry. Other startups, such as Memphis Meats and Hampton Creek, are trying to develop lab-based meat products that are grown in vats using animal-cell cultures. This is different from what the purely plant-based players are doing, but also would allow people to eat burgers without requiring any cows to go to the slaughterhouse.