It’s July 4, 2035, and you’re firing up the grill to throw on some plant-based hamburger patties. This may seem like a stretch, but Pat Brown, Founder & CEO of Impossible Foods, believes this will be reality.
This fall, the Harvard community had the opportunity to meet Brown thanks in large part to the efforts of the Office for Sustainability, the Food Literacy Project, and student groups from across the campus. The event kicked off with an intimate lunch, where student leaders from many of Harvard’s schools had an opportunity to learn from Brown. He shared his vision of revolutionizing the food supply by eliminating animal products from consumers’ diets in the next 20 years, and noted that Impossible Foods’ products will need to outperform traditional animal products not only on price but most importantly, on taste, in order to meet this goal. To accomplish this, Brown and his team have rigorously studying meat at the molecular level, and recreating its flavor, texture, and nutrients with plants.
That same afternoon, Natalie Kindred, senior researcher and manager of the Agribusiness Program at Harvard Business School, moderated a discussion with Brown, which shed more light on the impetus for founding Impossible Foods. While on sabbatical from his post at Stanford’s School of Medicine in 2009, Brown searched for “the biggest global issue” he could work on with his background and expertise. Brown looked into the global climate crisis and discovered that the largest contributor to climate change and environmental destruction was animal agriculture, and he began to evangelize the urgent need to address growing epidemic. Despite his efforts to convince others to try to solve this problem at the policy level, Brown ultimately realized he needed to tackle this issue through the free market. In 2011, Impossible Foods was born.
The day ended at Clover Food Lab, where Ayr Muir, Founder and CEO of Clover, debuted Impossible Foods’ debut in the Boston food scene. While many rushed to try the Impossible Burger, even more flocked Brown and his team in the auditorium with questions. Clover is the first restaurant group in the world to sell the Impossible Burger as a Meatball; more than 60 other restaurants currently sell the Impossible Burger on their menu as a burger.
Reflecting on the day’s events, I can’t help but recall a subtle yet important message that was shared at lunch by Rachel Konrad, Impossible Foods’ Chief Communications Officer. She noted how fun her role is because unlike many other corporate communications roles, leadership at Impossible Foods requires her and the company to “take a stance.”
Impossible Foods has engrained environmental stewardship and sustainability across its entire operating model, and these views are inherent to the company’s value proposition. I believe it is this deep-seated dedication to sustainability at every level that will differentiate Impossible Foods from its competitors and allow Brown’s vision for 2035 to be anything but impossible.
David Chan is a second-year MBA Candidate at Harvard Business School. At HBS, he is Co-President and CFO of the Food, Agriculture & Water Club and a former Student Sustainability Associate. David also serves on Harvard's Council of Student Sustainability Leaders.