PORTLAND — Just a few minutes into his presentation at TechFestNW, David Lee could sense suspicion and uncertainty amongst the crowd.
“I can tell from how quiet the room is, you guys are all dubious,” said Lee.
The premise of Impossible Foods is sometimes hard to believe. The Bill Gates-backed company, which this week raised another $114 million, is developing a plant-based vegan product that is indistinguishable from animal meat — both with how it tastes, and even how it bleeds.
Lee, the COO and CFO at Impossible Foods, spent 30 minutes on stage in Portland on Thursday explaining how the company plans to use technology to “completely replace animal agriculture.”
“We want meat eaters globally to happily prefer our plant-based vegan products because they think it’s just better,” said Lee, who was previously an executive at Del Monte Foods, Best Buy, and Zynga. “We want to meet the meat eater on their own terms and make a more delicious product for them.”
The company’s flagship “proof of concept” product, the Impossible Burger, is made from a combination of wheat protein, coconut oil, potato protein, and heme, according to its site. Heme is the substance that makes meat taste like meat, and Impossible Foods figured out a way to produce heme from plants and incorporate it into their burgers.
The Impossible Burger uses 75 percent less water, generates 87 percent fewer greenhouse gases, and requires 95 percent less land than a conventional ground beef from cows. There are no hormones, antibiotics, cholesterol or artificial flavors.
The burger is now available at 1,000 locations across the country, including at 12 restaurants in Portland, where my colleague Tom Krazit gave the tech-fueled creation a try and came away impressed.
Founded in 2011, Impossible Foods is now equipped with cash and acceptance from various chefs as it plans to take its product global. The Redwood City, Calif.-based company has launched its first large scale production plant and now makes two million pounds of burger meat a month. Lee said the company eventually plans to sell its products at grocery stores.
“We believe the opportunity isn’t just a narrow, niche, high-end premium fine dining experience — it’s to begin to penetrate the global market,” Lee said. “Our mission demands it.”