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Watch: Impossible Foods president Dennis Woodside on better strategies for scaling sustainability

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In 2011, scientist Pat Brown took a sabbatical from his university job to figure out how he could help solve climate change. Knowing the global meat industry was responsible for 70% of greenhouse gases, he founded Impossible Foods, devoting its first eight years to improving the taste of plant-based proteins on a molecular level. Between 2019 and 2021, the company partnered with the likes of Burger King and went from 200 retail stockists to 20,000; thanks in part to its success, studies now say that in the next 20 years, the majority of the “meat” we eat will be made from plants. 

But while that kind of explosive growth is great for both shareholders and—in this case—the environment, it can present internal challenges for any company that needs to scale fast enough to capitalize on it.

In this episode, Quartz CEO Zach Seward speaks with Impossible Foods president Dennis Woodside about how the company has dealt with those growing pains. Woodside explains that before the company had a sizable production capacity, it partnered with star chefs to build top-down buzz; now that it does, it’s looking to grow bottom-up by increasing the number of SKUs it offers at grocery stores. And within the business, new hires aren’t just insiders familiar with industry standards, but outsiders who can potentially disrupt them.

We think it’s healthy to have that tension between people who know the industry and know how things work, and people who don’t—and can challenge it.

Impossible Foods has also had to figure out how to make sure its operations embody the sustainability standards endemic to its mission, even when sacrifices must be made for the sake of speed. Woodside says his team circles back afterwards and helps suppliers re-engineer their products and processes to reduce waste—reconciling short-term setbacks with long-term advances.

“One of our values is to think like a scientist, meaning to bring the data but to experiment fast and fail fast,” says Woodside. “You see that in our approach to manufacturing and the scaling up of new lines and in our product development approach.”

Read more: Our field guide to the future of meat

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