Dennis Woodside joins Impossible Foods as president: ‘There are very few companies that can say with a straight face, every person on the planet is a potential customer'

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Picture: Impossible Foods
Picture: Impossible Foods

Related tags Impossible Burger Impossible Foods plant-based meat

Plant-based meat firm Impossible Foods has hired tech executive Dennis Woodside as president as it gears up for a retail launch.

Woodside, who most recently served as chief operating officer of Dropbox and spent several years at Google in senior management roles, “has a proven track record of turning startups into transformative corporations,”​ said Impossible Foods’ CEO, chairman and founder Dr Pat Brown, who is on a mission to eliminate the current system of raising animals for food by 2035.

Impossible Foods has raised a jaw-dropping amount of money for a food start-up (almost $400m in debt and equity), albeit one supported by a lot of IP, acknowledged Woodside (who starts work on March 18), but he is confident it can generate the kind of returns that justify such a large investment.

"Think about the market opportunity. Our investors are smart and they are thinking long term, and there are very few companies that can say with a straight face, 'Every person on the planet is a potential customer,” ​he told FoodNavigator-USA.

“A lot of tech companies with very big valuations can't say that. The market potential, if we are successful, is absolutely vast​.”

Making a lasting difference  

Woodside - who had his first Impossible burger last summer and was intrigued by how much buzz it was generating - met with Vinod Khosla at Khosla Ventures (an early investor in Impossible Foods) when he was looking for his next role, and recalls being challenged to "find a role that leveraged my skills but also could make a lasting difference.

"He said something like in 10 years' time, what do you want your kids to know you for? That resonated with me, so he introduced me to Pat Brown. We were scheduled to talk for an hour and we ended up talking for two and half hours.

"The company was at the stage where it was growing really fast and needed to build sales and marketing teams and scale up its manufacturing, and I know how to do those things, so it was one of those amazing fortuitous intersections of an amazing company, an amazing brand, and amazing possibilities."

Impossible Burger 2.0

The latest iteration of the Impossible Burger - which is now in 5,000+ restaurants and will make its retail debut later this year - matches conventional beef burgers when it comes to ‘likeability’ in blind taste tests, says Impossible Foods, which has replaced textured wheat protein with soy protein concentrate,​ and made other recipe tweaks it claims deliver a “tastier, juicier, beefier” (and now gluten-free) burger.

Based on aggregated blind taste testing data from 1,000+ consumers who ate burgers without condiments or buns, the new recipe matched regular beef burgers made with conventional ‘80/20’ ground beef from a major grocery chain on likeability, said the company, which debuted the Impossible Burger in July 2016 at Momofuku Nishi in New York.

As for functionality, the original Impossible Burger was custom-designed for flat-top cooking at restaurants, said Impossible Foods.

By contrast, the new recipe is optimized for any ground meat dish, from dumplings to sloppy joes. It can be steamed, seared, or sizzled on slats over an open flame. It retains its texture and juiciness throughout the cooking process​​.”

Despite a growing recognition that animal agriculture is environmentally problematic, the global demand for animal-derived food is surging, according to Impossible Foods’ recent impact report:​  

We’re not going to solve this problem by pleading with consumers to eat beans and tofu instead of meat and fish. We need to solve this problem another way — not by guilting consumers into changing their diets, but by making delicious, nutritious and sustainable meats that are better than the meats from inefficient, animal-based technology.​​

“The surest strategy for replacing the most destructive technology on Earth is to deliberately create foods that deliver greater pleasure and value to consumers of meat, fish and dairy foods, then simply offer them as a choice, and let market demand take care of the rest.”​​

Impossible Burger White Castle

The Impossible Burger​​​​​ is the brainchild of Stanford biochemist and genomics expert Pat Brown, PhD, MD, who has described industrialized meat production as "the most destructive technology on Earth​."​​​​

At Impossible Foods, the key components of meat have been identified, characterized and sourced from plants such as soy and potatoes, and processed using high-moisture extrusion and other techniques in order to meet precise functional, taste and textural criteria.

Impossible Burger NEW ingredients list​​​​​​: Water, soy protein concentrate, coconut oil, sunflower oil, natural flavors, 2% or less of: potato protein, methylcellulose, yeast extract, cultured dextrose, food starch modified, soy leghemoglobin, salt, soy protein isolate, mixed tocopherols (vitamin E), zinc gluconate, thiamine hydrochloride (vitamin B1), sodium ascorbate (vitamin C), niacin, pyridoxine hydrochloride (vitamin B6), riboflavin (vitamin B2), vitamin B12.

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