FK Meets | Featuring Nick Halla - Co-Founder, Impossible Foods
Every so often, a company is born which captures the imagination of a global audience, be that through a transformative product, executive or mission that consumers the world over can passionately subscribe to and participate in.
Impossible Foods can rightly lay a claim to being one of these once-in-a-generation companies.
Founders Keepers spoke with Nick Halla who, over the past eight years, has partnered with Stanford geneticist Professor Patrick Brown to create the world’s tastiest plant-based meat products, saving the Earth as they go.
Eight years on, with acclaimed products, extended product range and even an Impossible Whopper, Nick and his team of 550 mission-driven colleagues have their eyes set on a growth curve that has the power to fundamentally change the way humans eat, enjoy and engage with our planet.
Nick shared some of Impossible’s fascinating ideology, make up and ambition with us.
Impossible has captured the world’s imagination because of the product but also the mission. How big an impact can Impossible Foods make?
Our goal is to drastically reduce humanity’s destructive impact on the global environment by completely replacing the use of animals as a food production technology. We intend to accomplish this within two decades by creating the world’s most delicious, nutritious, affordable and sustainable meat, fish and dairy foods directly from plants.
All predictions show consumption of animal products will continue to increase unless we can fundamentally change the entire system by producing better products, directly from plants. With the launch of the new Impossible Burger recipe in January 2019, we worked with Quantis to carry out an updated life cycle assessment, to compare the relative impacts of an Impossible Burger against a beef burger. Impossible burgers use 87% less water, 96% less land, 89% fewer GHG emissions and 92% less dead-zone creating nutrient pollution than ground beef from cows.
Impossible sells products both direct to consumers and wholesale via partner restaurants. Do you see the company as a D2C, wholesale, manufacturing or tech company, or something else?
We offer our products as wholesale to our restaurant and retail partners, but we’re not D2C from a sales perspective. That said, a lot of our messaging and marketing is directed at consumers as we need to work very hard to change negative perceptions around the taste of plant-based products.
We are a technology company in that we have created a completely new way to understand food and create better foods to solve the most challenges of global food system sustainability.
We are a food company in that we are delivering uncompromisingly delicious meat, fish and dairy directly from plants to delighted consumers.
But at the end of the day, we are a planet company – the only reason Impossible exists is to create a truly sustainable global food system. Everything we do is driven by our mission.
Your “Impossible Whopper” partnership with Burger King USA feels like a significant moment in the global adoption of plant-based meat supplements in the mainstream market. What reactions and impacts have you seen from this collaboration, and are there others in the pipeline?
The Impossible Whopper was a big moment for us in taking the plant-based movement mainstream. The consumer reactions have been huge, and the price-point and ubiquity of Burger King’s restaurants made Impossible available to an entirely new market.
We have no further partnerships to announce at the moment, but it goes without saying we are in conversations with many mainstream restaurants and retailers.
What are your plans for Europe, and what are the regulations across these different markets?
Our intention is to sell plant-based meat across the world. We filed paperwork in 2019 with the European Food Safety Authority, so it’s a region we are absolutely working on.
Your range has expanded beyond burgers to mince. Are there any further products on the horizon, and can the processes you are using impact beyond meat substitutes?
Impossible has always come in minced form to be used in any ground meat dish. We found the versatility critical in capturing the creativity and imagination of global chefs.
We just announced Impossible Pork and are excited to bring it officially to market soon.
One of the most compelling aspects of Impossible Foods is the challenge of taking on one of the most established ingredients in human history and fundamentally changing consumer behaviour. Is that a manufacturing and technology challenge or a marketing challenge?
I’d actually challenge the premise of your question. History has shown that asking consumers to change their behaviour for the sake of the environment doesn’t work. In fact, meat consumption has steadily increased over hundreds of years.
Our mission is to create products that don’t require a change in consumer behaviour, because it’s the same taste and deliciousness that consumers love.
This is why Impossible Foods is different from the plant-based meats of the past – we don’t require meat-loving consumers to sacrifice part of their diet or to fundamentally change anything about their diet.
History has also shown that consumers are perfectly willing to accept a new technology when it’s undeniably a better product. This is how we view the transition to a plant-based food system. Ultimately, if the products are more delicious and provide a better value – health-wise, environmentally and on price – the consumer will choose the better product.
How do you bring in the talent you need to successfully scale a company that incorporates innovation, manufacture, distribution, marketing, consumers and all the aspects associated with food production?
We have hired a diverse team from across food, science, manufacturing and technology backgrounds. Hiring world-class executives like Dennis Woodside (former Chief Operating Officer at Dropbox, Google, Motorola) and Jessie Becker (former CMO, Netflix) has been foundational in supporting our rapid scaling experience.
Impossible’s vision and mission are the first draws for any new hire. Our company is home to the most passionate, intelligent and driven workforce, all working to solve an urgent global challenge. It’s an inspiring place and team to be a part of.
What does the team look like and what core elements are you looking for in Impossible Foods employees?
Today, our team is up to more than 550 employees. A huge piece of our recruiting strategy is mission alignment. It’s critical that new team members are on-board with, are driven by and understand that mission – more than growth – is the true north of Impossible Foods. Qualities we look for in our employees include curiosity, kindness, optimism, willingness to work hard and a team-orientation.
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