Impossible Foods, the alternative meat company that makes the Impossible Burger, announced today that it has raised an additional $300 million to take plant-based meat mainstream. The new round of funding was first reported by Reuters.
It’s a big fundraising haul — and reflects that there’s intense investor demand right now for alternatives to conventional meat. The new round of funding values the company at $2 billion, insiders told Reuters.
Impossible Foods makes a meat-free burger that tastes and cooks a lot like meat. That’s due in part to the protein heme, which the company argues is what gives meat its distinctive flavor. Impossible Foods makes its own heme from yeast fermentation. With the release earlier this year of their new recipe, the Impossible Burger 2.0, many meat-eating customers have said they can’t tell the difference between the Impossible Burger and ground beef.
It’s been a good year so far for Impossible Foods and for its competitors in the meat alternatives space. In April, Burger King announced the launch of the Impossible Whopper, and after the new burger met with eager customers and good reviews, the company announced it will start offering it at every US location. Qdoba also announced that it will be offering Impossible meat at its 730 US restaurants after a successful trial in Michigan.
Impossible Foods’ fundraising announcement comes a week after a stunning IPO for its competitor, Beyond Meat, which offered its stock at $25 and is now trading at $70. “I think [the Beyond Meat] IPO indicates that retail investors along with retail consumers are ready for something better than the meat they’ve been eating for decades,” Impossible Foods CFO Lee told Reuters. He said, though, that Impossible Foods does not immediately intend to go public.
“We believe in self-reliance. Being ready to go public is a priority for the company because we need to be operating at the highest level of rigor,” Lee said to Reuters. “But we are not in a rush, nor are we announcing an IPO filing.”
Impossible Foods’ investors include Khosla Ventures, Bill Gates, Google Ventures, UBS, Horizons Ventures, Viking Global Investors, Temasek, Sailing Capital, and the Open Philanthropy Project.
The rise of plant-based foods is actually a big deal
There’s a lot wrong with our food system — from animal cruelty to antibiotic resistance to its contributions to climate change. But people really like meat, and efforts to curb these problems by convincing people to switch away from meat haven’t worked well. There are about as many vegans and vegetarians as there were 20 years ago.
That’s where plant-based meat alternatives can step in. Products like veggie burgers, fake chicken, and soy and almond milk are growing in popularity and market share — and even better, they’re getting tastier and harder to distinguish from animal products.
Impossible Foods makes its products with heme, a protein cultivated from soybean roots that is credited for lending the Impossible Burger its strikingly meaty flavor. Even people who eat meat are often happy to substitute an equally tasty alternative that’s better for the world.
Beyond Meat founder Ethan Brown told my colleague Sigal Samuel that 93 percent of consumers who buy Beyond Meat also buy animal meat — and he’s fine with that. It’s a sign these products, far from being a just-for-vegans eccentricity, are going mainstream.
Impossible Foods CEO Pat Brown (no relation) told Vox the same thing in a 2017 interview, calling the vegetarian and vegan market “a complete waste in terms of our mission.” The company’s aim is to reduce meat consumption, and so selling food to vegetarians doesn’t advance that goal at all. The Impossible Burger only achieves its results for the planet when it’s sold to meat-eaters in the place of meat — and that’s who the company is targeting.
With the surge of consumer and restaurant interest in plant-based foods has come a surge in investment from titans of the meat industry. Last fall, Perdue Farms announced it was looking into its own plant-based products. Tyson Foods announced in February it was launching a plant-based product line. Since 2016, Tyson has also made investments in plant-based and lab-grown meat research and operations, putting money into the cell-based meat startups Memphis Meats and Future Meat Technologies Ltd. and in the plant-based meat startup Beyond Meat.
Of course, total investment in the plant-based meat sector remains a tiny fraction of investment in the conventional meat sector — and that will take a long time to change. Plant-based meat companies can’t produce enough burgers to displace much of the meat market yet, though that’s one of the things they are raising money to attempt to change.
It’ll probably be a long time before these alternatives can replicate the experience of a steak — though engineers are hard at work on it. In the meantime, they’re finding their niche with burgers and ground beef. Restaurants and consumers, going by the recent surge of interest, are increasingly getting on board. And investors look increasingly willing to bet on new meats.
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