Based in Oakland, California, the factory will produce at least one million pounds of meatless meat per month — or four million burgers — once the site is up and running later in 2017.
At an event to unveil the factory, CEO and founder Pat Brown called it “the birthplace of a whole new industry.”
Impossible Foods, which has raised $US182 million in venture capital from the likes of Bill Gates, Google Ventures, and Khosla Ventures, has been surrounded by buzz since its burger debuted at Chef David Chang’s restaurant Momofuku Nishi last summer. Foodies travel from far-away places to try the burger at the eight (mostly high-end) restaurants that serve it, while others track its whereabouts with the perseverence of Apple fans scouring for iPhone 8 leaks.
The Oakland factory will increase Impossible Foods’ production capacity 250 times, allowing the company to supply burgers to more than 1,000 restaurants in the future and introduce its flagship retail product within the next few years.
The facility offers the first evidence that Impossible Foods will not remain a boutique, Silicon Valley-esque obsession and may actually meet demand in a wider market.
Impossible Foods was founded on the idea that there’s a better way to satisfy people who enjoy meat. The world’s population could reach nine billion people by 2050, and there aren’t enough resources on the planet to support sustainable animal agriculture at that scale. As it stands, animal agriculture takes up about a third of the world’s land, and is responsible for 15% of greenhouse gas emissions.
Brown, a molecular biologist, left his teaching job at Stanford University in 2009 to make a veggie burger that meat-lovers will actually want to eat. The Impossible Burger is made of wheat and potato protein, coconut oil, additives found in processed foods, and a not-so-secret ingredient called heme — a molecule that carries oxygen through the bloodstream in animals and through energy-producing mechanisms in plants. It smells and even bleeds like real meat.
Several Business Insider reporters, from the most ardent meat-eaters to vegetarians, have tried the Impossible Burger. The reviews were overwhelmingly positive. Kim Renfro, who stopped eating meat 10 years ago, said it “immediately transported [her] back to meaty memories.”
I tried the Impossible Burger for my second time at the factory’s opening. The patty has crispy, caramelised bits on the outside and a pink, juicy center. For me, this biggest giveaway that I was eating something other than beef was the slightly rubbery, mushroom-like texture.
As the company gains the ability to produce at scale, its new challenge may be convincing average Americans to make the switch from meat to an alternative. Most veggie burgers resemble hockey pucks more than beef, as Brown likes to say. Still, he’s optimistic.
“Being made from animals has never been part of the value proposition of meat. It’s just been inseparable from what consumers do value, which is deliciousness, nutritional profile, and so forth,” Brown tells Business Insider. “As soon as they experience [the burger], they can now disconnect things they value from the way it’s made.” In other words, eating is believing.
The company will continue to roll out the burger in restaurants, where Brown says consumers can expect consistently great experiences trying the burger.
Starting this week, Californians can find the Impossible Burger in three new restaurants: KronnerBurger in Oakland, Public House in San Francisco, and Vina Enoteca in Palo Alto. The burger will appear on the menu at 11 restaurants nationwide by the end of the year.
The company fields a huge volume of requests from restaurants that want to serve the burger, according to Brown. Impossible Foods is deliberate in its selections.
“The chefs we work with aren’t just great chefs, they’re great meat-chefs. It’s a very effective way to communicate to consumers that if these people are willing to put their reputations on the line to serve this product, you can have confidence that you’re not going to have a crappy experience,” Brown says.
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