The Future of Our Eating Habits

Alternative meat - In Japan, there are companies that produce alternative meats, but there is no trend like in the U.S. or Europe where people are choosing plant-based meat. In the Western culture, the shift to alternative meat is supported by environmental protection and other factors. I interviewed Esther Cohn of Impossible Foods, a biotechnology startup that is leading the market for sustainable options of foods. The company has so much momentum that it is rumored to be going public soon. We asked her about the company's mission and future prospects.

Speaker Profile

Esther Cohn

Impossible Foods
What is your plan to expand globally?

Our long-term goal is to transform the global food system and have products in all key regions globally. In April 2018, we launched our first international market in Hong Kong, launched Macau in July 2018 and Singapore in March 2019, with plans to expand to additional locations in Asia in the future. Impossible Burger debuted in Canada in September 2020 at the award-winning restaurants of world-class chefs, and shortly after in 600 Sobeys locations in Canada.
Why did you choose Asia to start with?
Our first international market launches were in Asia because Asia has some of the world’s most discerning foodies and chefs, and it’s also a global bellwether for cultural and food trends.
The other reason was because Asia has the greatest growth in demand in animal products, with a growth rate of 70% over the next couple of decades. China consumes 28% of the world’s meat, according to the OECD and FAO. People in China are expected to eat about 74 million tones of pork, beef and poultry in 2017. That’s about twice as much as the United States, according to U.S. agriculture department estimates. We want to make Impossible Foods’ products available everywhere -- but we needed to hit the region where meat consumption first.
How do you see the future with a plant-based meat market in the next 5-10 years?
Impossible Foods isn’t really a food company, it’s a biotechnology startup with a world-class archive of knowledge regarding how meat works at the molecular level. We’re using its intellectual property to reverse global warming and halt our extinction crisis and we’re doing this by making foods that replace livestock.

Similarly, Impossible Foods is not at all a “plant-based food company,” and we don’t compete against companies that are doing their part to make the global food system sustainable. We don’t target or market to people who are vegans or vegetarians; only about 3% of people worldwide are vegans or vegetarians, and they’re already doing the right thing by eliminating livestock-related products.

Rather, Impossible Foods competes square against the livestock industry. The only consumer we care about is the meat-loving omnivore. That’s because our use of livestock has led us to the brink of environmental catastrophe.

Exploiting animals for food is by far the most profound contributor to global warming. Without any changes to our global transportation or energy habits, phasing out livestock (by replacing it with products including as Impossible Burger) would erase 56 percent of global emissions by the year 2100 -- equivalent to 44 years of total greenhouse-gas emissions. The climate benefits would accrue rapidly -- most in the first few decades, effectively pausing greenhouse-gas accumulation for 30 years. In addition, phasing out livestock would greatly reduce the risk of species extinction, deforestation and water pollution -- and reverse our species’ public health crisis.

We differentiate from our competition by making products that are delicious, nutritious and sustainable. Impossible Burger uses 87% less water, 96% less land, contributes 89% less greenhouse gas emissions, and contributes 92% less freshwater pollution than a burger made from cows.
How do you make the product?
Impossible Burger is the award-winning, flagship product from Impossible Foods. It was named top plant-based burger by the New York Times and received the Food and Beverage (FABI) Award from the National Restaurant Association. Prized by world’s top chefs as well as home cooks, Impossible Burger is delicious, nutritious and sustainable. It sizzles, smells and cooks like beef from cows – but it uses 87% less water, 96% less land, contributes 89% less greenhouse gas emissions, and contributes 92% less freshwater pollution than a burger made from cows.

Impossible Burger tastes like beef and is hailed as a triumph of food engineering -- the result of nearly a decade of basic science and hard-core research and development in the company’s headquarters in California’s Silicon Valley. Texas ranchers can’t tell the difference between Impossible Burger and ground beef from cows; a beef lobbyist called it the “real deal” and a “wake-up call” for the livestock sector.

Impossible Burger is made of sustainable, wholesome ingredients including soy proteins, sunflower oil and coconut oil -- as well as a special ingredient, heme.

Heme is a molecule that is found in all living things – both plants and animals – and is what makes meat taste and look like meat. Every human being has eaten heme every day since the dawn of humanity. Heme is particularly abundant in meat, and is a direct source of iron.

The heme in Impossible Burger comes from the roots of a soy plant, or legume, and is attached to the protein, leghemoglobin. When the heme in Impossible Burger is combined with other elements found in meat — vitamins, amino acids, and sugars — and heated up, it generates flavor that our taste buds and brain recognize as meat.

To satisfy the global demand for meat with a tiny fraction of the environmental impact, Impossible Foods had to develop a scalable way to make heme without animals. We found that by adding a plant gene to yeast cells, we could use fermentation to produce a heme protein naturally found in plants, called leghemoglobin, in essentially unlimited quantities with a tiny fraction of the environmental impact.

Writer's Comments

"The real competition comes from the existing animal-based food system." In Japan, there is still a lack of significant expansion in this area, but if it tastes good and helps protecting the environment, why not, right? Would you buy delicious plant-based meat if you could find it in the supermarket?

Interviewer Profile


Pivot Tokyo
Pivot Tokyo 主催。日本からグローバルに挑戦する人を増やすため、GKCorsという英語の幼児教室を運営している。世界最大級のテクノロジーカンファレンス、ウェブサミット日本事務局のレプレゼンタティブも務める。



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