Woolworths takes on ‘mission Impossible’ with plant-based burger

Impossible Foods president Dennis Woodside sees the company’s plant-based burgers, sausages and other products more as bypassing the cow rather than fake meat, as well as potentially helping in the fight against inflation.

The burger, backed by Bill Gates and other Silicon Valley heavyweights, is deepening its expansion into Australia, launching in Woolworths on Monday as it seeks to win the hearts, and stomachs of meat eaters.

Mr Woodside’s pitch is that beef and Impossible’s plant-based products are not that different.

“We’re taking the same plants, very similar plants, that are fed to the cow. And the cow is an inefficient engine at converting those proteins and nutrients into something that humans consume,” he said.

“(A cow has) got to eat a lot of food to generate a pound of beef. We take those same ingredients and convert them directly into meat so it’s inherently more efficient, and over time that means that we should be able to reduce the cost of production to below the price of animal feed or meat.”

While some critics have panned fake meat as a highly processed, laboratory-created product, plant-based proteins are seen as helping meet a global shortfall in red meat.

In the past 20 years, global red meat consumption has soared 58 per cent and is continuing to grow as the middle class in Asia booms. China alone accounted for 34 per cent of global consumption growth, according to the Australian Agriculture Department, soaring 72 per cent in the past ○decades.

Red meat has become a status symbol: AACo’s wagyu steaks are selling for $US369 ($503) for a four-pack from US online butcher Goldbelly.

“The only thing I’d say is there was a time when having a horse was a big deal. And people were really proud of how many horses they had. That was a status symbol. And then there’s this better technology called an automobile,” said Mr Woodside, who was formerly Dropbox’s chief operating officer and Motorola Mobility’s chief executive.

“Things can change more rapidly than we think when people have alternatives.”

Arable land suited to cattle production is declining while a spotlight has been cast on livestock as governments around the world adopt zero emission targets. This has created an environment where fake meat products are coming of age, with even the CSIRO helping to develop a plant-based burger, partnering with Competitive Foods and Main Sequence Ventures to found a start-up company called v2food. The vegan burgers are now available at Hungry Jacks.

Mr Woodside highlights Impossible’s green credentials, saying the company uses 90 per cent less water and land – and puts out 90 per cent less emissions – to produce its burgers. But those figures can easily fall on deaf ears if it fails on taste.

Plant-based products also have to compete with meat in terms of preparation, so people feel like they aren’t consuming an inferior product.

“When you put a veggie patty on it on a grill, it sort of just sits there and warms up. You don‘t get the smoke or the sizzle or the sensory smell and transition from pink to brown.

“All that happens with Impossible and that’s because we use a molecule called like leghemoglobin, or heme for short, which is found in every living animal and that is a part of the process of cooking,” Mr Woodside said.

“It was important for us that Impossible in the hands of the home chef acts as closely to the animal product as possible. So it’s pink when you buy it. You can turn it into a meatball, you can turn it into a sauce. The cooking times are very comparable to what you would use for animal-based meats. And all that’s important because you don’t want to have to change any habits.”

Impossible makes ‘‘heme’’ using a yeast genetically engineered with the gene for soy leghemoglobin.

At this stage, Impossible’s flagship beef “made from plants” will be available at about 800 Woolworths stores. It comes four months after the company launched in Australia, partnering with Grill’d and Sydney restaurant group Butter.


Extracted from The Australian

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