Impossible Foods plant-based burger patties at Oakland plant. Impossible recently lowered prices by … [+]
Your favorite plant-based foods are about to get cheaper. Impossible Foods just announced it’s lowering prices by 15%, and Eat JUST’s $4.99 plant-based egg will hit the shelves of Whole Foods in the next few weeks. Leading companies in the plant-based space are inching closer to price parity with meat, and it’s a goal they’re reaching by going big. Bigger partnerships. Bigger distribution. Bigger production facilities. Is this a new era of ‘Big Food,’ plant-based style?
Impossible Foods’ Chief Communications Officer Rachel Konrad doesn’t think so. “The company was founded entirely to replace animals from the food system,” she says. Decisions and deals in service of that goal are a good thing, which includes partnerships with places like Burger King and large food manufacturing companies. “We are a for-profit, capitalist institution that really appreciates our partners,” Konrad says pointedly.
In order to wipe out meat as a commodity, Impossible knows it has to be competitive on price, Konrad says. While the company isn’t there yet—the price of Impossible meat is closer to high-end, organic grass-fed beef at the moment—Konrad says you can expect to see prices keep decreasing until the company reaches its goal.
For Josh Tetrick, Co-Founder and CEO of JUST, partnering with an animal protein company was once the furthest thing from his mind. He thought of ‘Big Food’ as pure evil, he says, run by people who get up in the morning “intentionally trying to damage our bodies.” JUST’s goals are similar to Impossible’s—sell more plant-based eggs and less animal products. By the end of 2019, the company had sold “the equivalent of about 15.4 million eggs,” says Tetrick, which saves “a whole lot of water, land and carbon emissions.”
2019 Dollar Sales Growth For Plant-Based Food Categories
The Good Food Institute, Inc.
Displacing meat remains an outrageously ambitious goal. Sales of beef, chicken, dairy, pork and egg all hit hundreds of billions dollars annually, as compared to just $2 billion dollars for the largest of the plant-based food categories: milk alternatives.
On the other hand, the rate of growth for the industry has been impressive—18% for plant-based meat in 2019 and 11% for the plant-based category overall, according to a recent study commissioned by The Good Food Institute, an organization that advocates for the plant-based industry.
“Last summer was the great Impossible burger shortage of 2019,” says Konrad, with demand for Impossible beef growing so intense that the company finally fell behind on its orders. According to Konrad, the company worked from May to December of 2019 to quadruple its production capacity. Impossible also announced a partnership with OSI Group, a huge food manufacturer based in Aurora, a suburb just outside of Chicago, Illinois.
Ridding the food system of meat may be a radical idea but the company’s strategy has always been more pragmatic than ideologically pure, says Konrad. When a company like Burger King wants to serve plant-based Impossible meat with mayonnaise or cheese, “we’re not precious about that,” Konrad says.
“We love vegans and vegetarians,” she is also quick to say, “but the reality is we don’t market to them.” Vegans and vegetarians are already “doing the right thing” by omitting meat from their diets. To get Impossible in the hands of meat eaters, restaurants and grocery stores simply can’t risk relegating the plant-based patties to the “vegan ghetto.” So the company has to be flexible, explains Konrad.
Bags of mung bean flour at Eat Just, Inc.’s new Appleton, Minnesota plant-based protein … [+]
Eat JUST, Inc.
Finding that flexibility was a little more complicated for Tetrick, once the target of a secret campaign waged by egg industry executives and the American egg board. It was a surprise then when former egg industry executive Morten Ernst reached out to Tetrick and asked to visit the company’s headquarters in San Francisco.
After the visit, Ernst and Tetrick got to talking, which is when Ernst said he could see the industry was changing, and he wanted to be a part of that change. From then on, the two started talking regularly, and Ernst eventually nudged Tetrick towards a partnership with the very people Tetrick once railed against. But it didn’t happen overnight. It took lots of discussions over dinner and wine, Tetrick says, but he eventually saw an opportunity he just couldn’t pass up.
“They have access to hundreds of millions of points of distribution. They have thousands of factories. They have tens of thousands of trucks,” explains Tetrick. Could the JUST team find or build all of that on their own? Sure, but it would take them a lot longer to get there.
Tetrick stopped looking at egg distributors like Euronovo as an entity “pumping out a lot of animal proteins” and instead started to see the potential for “infrastructure.” With these partnerships in place, Tetrick believes JUST can expand in about half the time it would take them on their own.
It was the longevity of these companies that really made an impression, however. At a dinner in Bologna, Italy, he asked an executive how his company got started. “He said his dad started just by collecting eggs, collecting eggs around town and selling them to people,” Tetrick recalls.
These are family businesses, Tetrick says, passed down from generation to generation. “The foundational interest isn’t to pack animals into small cages,” he insists. “The foundational interest is to be a good company that makes money and that’s around for another 50 years.” That’s a legacy that Tetrick seems more than willing to embrace.