Impossible Foods success in capital raising signify a serious market possibility for plant-based meat substitutes in Asia

US-based Impossible Foods has successfully raised US$114 million in convertible note financing provided by Singapore-backed Temasek, and Sailing Capital, a Shanghai and Hong Kong-based global private equity firm. Sailing Capital is not the only one that joins Temasek, but previous and repeat investors include Open Philanthropy Project, Bill Gates, Horizons Ventures, Google Ventures, UBS, and Viking Global Investors. The company's first venture capital seed provider was Khosla Ventures, which also then went on to participate in multiple follow-on rounds.
This overwhelming successful capital raising exercise brought Impossible Foods’ total funding to a mind-boggling US$396 milllion since its founding in 2011.
Impossible Foods produces a line of next generation meat and cheese products made solely from plants that contain no cholesterol, hormones or antibiotics. The company's flagship product is a plant-based, meatless burger that contains soy leghemoglobin - a protein that carries ‘heme’, an iron-rich molecule that is naturally present in all animals and plants that creates a plant-based burger that ‘bleeds’ like traditional beef.
Impossible Foods’ CEO and Founder, Dr Patrick O. Brown said, “Our world-class investors enable us to ramp up rapidly and accomplish our urgent mission. We are proud of the progress we have made but frankly there are still millions of restaurants and billions of people who want meat. We won't stop until the global food system is truly sustainable.”
In Impossible Foods, Brown assembled a team of scientists, chefs, farmers and flavour experts to analyse meat down to its molecular level to determine why it smells, handles, cooks and tastes the way it does, and find a plant-based alternative.
The main driver and mission behind Impossible Foods, and for many investors that are making commitments to the plant-based food segment, is the development of foods using modern science and technology that can sustainably meet the needs of an expanding global population with a much smaller environmental footprint than meat from animals. This is also in support of rising popularity of veganism, rising concerns over animal rights, and the growing consumer awareness of the use of bad hormones and antibiotics in farm animals.
Latest data from Lux Research showed that global protein consumption is expected to climb at a CAGR of 1.7% reaching 943 million tonnes by 2054.
With the growing concerns of greenhouse gas emissions from animal farm industry, the Impossible Burger was launched in July 2016 in Manhattan, USA. Brown said half of the meat consumed in the US is ground meat in hamburgers, so it was the right decision to make a plant-based product that mimicked it. Impossible Burger uses 75% less water and 95% less land to produce than traditional beef and produces 87% fewer greenhouse gases, and since the launch, it is now being served in more than 1,000 restaurants across the US from Hawaii to Maine.
The Impossible Burger is described as ‘plant-based meat’ made from water, wheat protein, potato­protein and coconut oil. Its special ingredient is heme, a molecule that contains iron. “What we discovered is that heme catalyses chemical reactions that transform simple nutrients, whether they be from plants or animals, into this explosion of flavours and aromas,” said Brown.
Asia is now quickly becoming a focus of companies in the plant-based protein sector due to its massive population and climbing consumption rate for meat. Overall, Asia accounts for 44% of the total global demand for meat, and China alone accounts for half of all the pork and one quarter of all the meat consumed in the world. Converting this demand for protein to plant-based sources represents a huge market potential. With this, Impossible Foods has just launched its Impossible Burger in Asia starting with Hong Kong in April.
The patented technology used to make ‘heme’ allows Impossible Foods to make all kinds of meat-free substitutes from pork, lamb, chicken to even fish. However, when it comes to taste, the consumer reaction is rather mixed with some love it and some really don’t. As such, Impossible Foods will continue to fine-tune the taste according to regional consumer preferences. Based on feedback from taste experts in Hong Kong, Impossible Foods ‘meat’ seem to work fine with frying, searing or deep-frying but when it comes to steaming, it fails miserably as the ‘meat’ does not coagulate.
Impossible burgers is now served at Little Bao, Happy Paradise, and Beef & Liberty restaurants in Hong Kong in a team up with award-winning chefs May Chow and Uwe Opocensky. “We are confident that Hong Kong - Asia's crossroads of ideas and influences, both modern and traditional - will be home to the most innovative Impossible recipes yet,” said Brown.
Impossible Food’s almost impossible mission is to completely replace animals in the food system by 2035. One wonders what will happen to farm animal population if we stop consuming them. Let’s wait till 2035 to see what happens.