Plant-based protein maker Impossible Foods — which designs vegan burgers that simulate the oozing, bleeding effect you get with rare meat — today unveiled a co-manufacturing collaboration with global food provider OSI Group.
The news follows fellow plant-based meat producer Beyond Meat’s mixed earnings results earlier this week that sent stock of the New York Stock Exchange-listed company down 15% yesterday, and now has investors betting against it.
With investor interest sizzling and demand for these burgers surging nationally after Impossible’s deal with Burger King to provide Impossible Whoppers and its $300 million Series E funding round earlier this year, the race has been on to scale up production to keep up expectations and appetites. OSI will begin producing Impossible Foods’ flagship product, the Impossible Burger, starting next month, adding short-term capacity to Impossible Foods’ plant in Oakland, California.
This does not seem to be a temporary fix: the team say OSI will continue to expand production of Impossible Foods’ flagship product throughout 2019 and thereafter. “We conducted an exhaustive due diligence process to determine how to scale our manufacturing, both in the short term and over the next several years, and we were thoroughly impressed with OSI’s commitment to quality and responsiveness,” said Senior Vice President of Product and Operations Sheetal Shah, who joined Impossible Foods in May and oversees numerous functions including manufacturing, supply chain and logistics. “OSI has already installed equipment to make the Impossible Burger, and we’ll start seeing new capacity every week.”
OSI can source, develop, produce and distribute custom food solutions worldwide. The privately held company based in Aurora, Ill., has more than 65 facilities in 17 countries. “Impossible Foods will help fulfill the OSI Group’s commitment to sustainable food production — one of the core prisms through which OSI management makes operational decisions.” said Kevin Scott, Senior Executive Vice President, OSI North America.
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The co-manufacturing deal comes amid rising demand for the company’s flagship product, the plant-based Impossible Burger, which debuted at Chef David Chang’s Momofuku Nishi and other world-class restaurants in 2016.
At the International Consumer Electronics Show in January 2019, Impossible Foods launched its Impossible Burger 2.0 — the company’s first significant product upgrade. The Impossible Burger, the first food ever featured at CES’ roster of game-changing technologies, won the show’s top prizes.
Since the launch of the 2.0 version six months ago, Impossible Foods’ sales have surged via independent restaurants, large restaurant chains such as White Castle, Cheesecake Factory and Qdoba, and non-commercial outlets such as theme parks, museums, stadiums, and college campuses. The Impossible Burger is now on menus in about 10,000 restaurants on two continents, the team say.
In April, the world’s second largest burger chain, Burger King, debuted the Impossible Whopper in a regional test in St. Louis. The 59-unit regional test of the Impossible Whopper at Burger King restaurants in St. Louis has gone exceedingly well; the Miami-based restaurant chain intends to bring the Impossible Whopper to all 7,200 U.S. restaurants.
Since launching in Singapore in March 2019, sales have more than quadrupled in Asia. Impossible Foods’ plant-based meat is sold in a wide range of restaurants and cuisines throughout Hong Kong, Singapore, and Macau — including internationally celebrated establishments by David Myers, Gordon Ramsay and Wolfgang Puck.
Impossible Foods plans to launch the Impossible Burger in retail outlets later this year.
Founded in 2011 by Stanford biochemistry professor and former pediatrician Dr. Patrick O. Brown, Impossible Foods has over the years developed a healthy rivalry with other protein powerhouses like Beyond Meat, which scorched the stock market with its IPO on May 2, when its shares spiked by over 163%, reaching a valuation of $3.77 billion at market close. Also in May, Impossible Foods announced its own a $300 million funding round. Led by existing investors Temasek and Horizons Ventures — and joined by a glittering array of celebrities like Serena Williams and Jay Z — the “Series E” round will be used to accelerate the company’s rapid scaleup — including accelerated hiring and capacity expansion at the company’s plant in Oakland, Calif. Since its founding in 2011, the industry-leading food-tech startup has raised more than $750 million.
Since March 2019, the team say Impossible Foods has tripled the weekly production rate and has doubled headcount hired at its plant in Oakland, Calif. Management claims the 68,000-square-foot plant produced an all-time record volume of product in May 2019, then another record amount of product in June 2019, thanks to increased staffing and operational efficiency improvements.
However, not everyone is so convinced by this rapid ability to scale. Writing in AFN this week, the founder and CEO of Rebellyous Foods Christie Lagally described most plant based production as technologically lacking: “The plant-based meat industry hasn’t made significant changes to its production technology and equipment in decades,” she writes. “The veggie sausages on health store shelves in the 80s were likely made with the same off-the-shelf meat processing equipment that the majority of plant-based meat companies use today, including headline-making, tech-driven startups. Similarly, food-grade extruders weren’t even originally developed with these products in mind and were instead designed for foods like macaroni, cheese puffs, and breakfast cereals… These facts have largely been ignored during the rapid explosion of this burgeoning industry.”
In March, Impossible Foods hired Dennis Woodside as President, overseeing the company’s rapid scaleup. Woodside, who has nearly 25 years of professional experience at both startups and publicly traded multinationals, previously served as Chief Operating Officer of Dropbox, where he was responsible for all customer-facing functions and revenue generation. Before that, Woodside was Chief Executive Officer of Motorola Mobility, a $10 billion mobile device company, after its acquisition by Google. He worked at Google from 2003-2012, overseeing more than $10 billion in sales in North and South America, Europe, the Middle East and Africa, among other leadership roles. In May, Impossible hired tech industry scaleup veteran Shah, who was previously Chief Operations Officer at Verifone. Before that, Shah served as Chief Procurement Officer and numerous leadership roles at Motorola Mobility, a $10 billion mobile device company acquired by Google.