Half of plant-based meat manufacturer Impossible Foods' expansion plans targeted at Asia

By Tingmin Koe

- Last updated on GMT

Plant based meat products are seeping into Asian markets.
Plant based meat products are seeping into Asian markets.
Almost half of plant-based meat and dairy firm Impossible Foods’ growth plans are targeted at Asia, which has been described as a “really critical market” by chief strategy officer Nick Halla.

The California-based company debuted in Hong Kong​ two weeks ago. Hong Kong is the first city to sell Impossible burgers outside of the US. 

Little Bao, Happy Paradise and Beef & Liberty are some of the Hong Kong restaurants that have partnered with the company.

Halla, speaking at a panel discussion at the Food for the Future Summit in Singapore last week, said about 44% of Impossible Foods’ future plans are targeted at Asia.

Since its inception, the start-up has attracted big-name investors​, including Singapore’s Temasek Holdings, Hong Kong-based Horizons Ventures, Bill Gates, and UBS. Last year, it received a $75-million funding led by Temasek and was working on building a new factory in Oakland, which can produce 12 million pounds of meat-alternative burgers per year.

“Our mission has been global from day one,”​ Halla said. He added that other Asian markets that are part of the expansion plan include Singapore.

Starting in 2011, the company’s ultimate mission is to replace all animals in food production by 2035.

Taste matters

When it comes to consumers’ level of acceptance towards plant-based burgers, Halla noted that taste is what that matters.

“If it doesn’t taste amazing, it doesn’t matter.”

He shared a consumer test done on plant-based burger six years ago, which was initially met with scepticism.

However, by the end of the survey, he found that there was a 2:1 preference that meat consumers preferred plant-based burger that mimicked the looks, cooks, smells and taste of beef burgers.

“What that taught us is that consumers don’t care if it came from animals or from plants.”

From there, his team made plant-based burgers based on a design criteria that satisfies customers’ preference.

Josh Tetrick, CEO and co-founder of JUST, who was also part of the panel, echoed the need to balance taste and sustainable food production.

“We are not going to fix of the problem of not eating well if taste is not number one,” ​he said.

He explained that this is because consumers do not care enough about the environment or animals to be driven by these two factors alone when it comes to sustainable food production, adding “We get some (who cares), but we are not going to ultimately solve the problem in a systemic way.”

357,000 plant species

Tetrick shared that the hunt for plant ingredients to substitute meat ingredients was not an easy task.

He said that in the initial stage of making a plant-based egg scramble, he and his team screened 357,000 plant species from all around the world, and eventually found “a bean that scrambles like an egg.”

Besides exploring plant alternatives, he said that food manufacturers can also acquire ingredients that “don’t require the confinement of slaughtered animal”​, simply by accessing cell line from animals.

JUST is a US plant-based food start-up which has launched egg-free products, such as egg-free mayo, ranch dressing made with canola oil and pea protein and egg scramble made with mung beans.

It made its first foray into Asia by launching its retail mayo and dressings in Green Common outlets in Hong Kong this year, with plans to expand into Japan, China and Singapore. 

In an exclusive interview​ with FoodNavigator-Asia in February this year, Tetrick also revealed that the company will open manufacturing site in Asia this year. Possible locations include China, Singapore and Japan.   

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