DITCHING THE COW

A startup says it can now produce enough for 4 million meatless burgers a month

For two years, Impossible Foods founder and CEO Patrick Brown managed to keep a pretty good secret.

While food industry analysts guessed at when innovative meat-alternative companies would be able to scale their production, Brown and his team quietly continued tinkering away at the taste of their faux-beef product—made of wheat, coconut oil, potatoes, and heme, an iron-containing compound found in plants and meat.

But Brown has now decided to pull the trigger. In an announcement today, the Bay Area company said it was close to finishing a large-scale production facility in Oakland, California that can produce as much as 1 million lb (454,000 kg) of meatless meat a month. Assuming a patty that’s the same weight as what’s in erstwhile rival McDonald’s famous flagship bun… well, that’s a lot of burgers.

 “We score zero points if a vegan or vegetarian buys our burger.” 

And Brown intends to be aggressive. “We’ll probably be within an hour’s drive of most of the US population by the end of the year,” he told Quartz, but declined to say which restaurant chains have agreed to incorporate Impossible Foods burger into their menus. “We’re dead serious about our mission. That means any food product that currently is produced using animals, we intend to create a product that can compete.”

The new facility is not only a milestone for Impossible Foods, but also an inflection point for the fledgling industry that produces meat alternatives. In constructing an operation that can churn out that much non-meat meat, Impossible Foods has upped the ante for its closest rivals, sending a signal that it’s ready to enter the market with full force, with a focus on supplying its product to fast casual restaurants and chains.

The new space will allow Impossible Foods to produce 250 times more product than it’s currently making, enough to service 1,000 restaurants.

The future is coming

Brown and his team will have plenty of competition. In restaurants alone, more than 5 billion lb of ground beef are consumed every year. And then there’s the other meat-alternative companies that have charged into the space. Beyond Meat is another high-profile faux-beef company that’s looking to make inroads into the retail market, and Memphis Meats announced last week it created the world’s first meatless chicken tenders made from self-reproducing cells.

Until now, Impossible Foods has slowly entered the market by popping up in high-profile restaurants in New York City and San Francisco. The goal, though, is to get in front of the most devout meat lovers. In fact, that’s part of Brown’s metric for success. Forget the people obsessed with vegetables.

“Our definition of success is: we score zero points if a vegan or vegetarian buys our burger,” Brown says. “The more of a meat lover they are, the more they are our target customer.”

The company’s market research has shown that even the most devoted American meat eaters will never stop wanting it—but they would be interested in a product that tastes just as good and is also made of plants, Brown says. In other words, a product that comes from an animal is not part of the intrinsic value of a burger. It’s more about how delicious, nutritious, and affordable that product is.

As for getting in front of people, Impossible Foods’ scale-up comes just in time for baseball season, which begins April 3. The company’s product will be served at Public House in AT&T Park in San Francisco, as well as KronnerBurger and Vina Enoteca starting this week. It will also soon be on the menu at Bareburger locations along the East Coast.

Chef Rocco Scordella, of Vina Enoteca, says he’s been cooking for Impossible Foods’ private events for months, and that he’s looking forward to adding the beef alternative to his menu—initially as burger sliders, with plans to expand upon it.

“I use it in many different ways,” Scordella says. “I make burgers, I make meatballs, we make bolognese sauce with it.” And he’s optimistic about what he’s working with. “It’s the future of food, personally,” he adds.


Read this next: Inside the battle to convince America to eat meatless burgers

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