Impossible Foods targets K-12 foodservice market after securing USDA Child Nutrition Label for its plant-based meat

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Picture: Gettyimages-XiXinXing
Picture: Gettyimages-XiXinXing

Related tags Impossible Foods Food for kids K-12

Impossible Foods is heading into K-12 schools across the US this month via pilot programs in California, Washington, and Oklahoma ahead of a wider K-12 market entry in the fall, after securing a Child Nutrition Label for its burgers from the USDA's food and nutrition service.

Child Nutrition (CN) Labels are voluntary food crediting statements authorized by the USDA that make it easier for schools participating in federal child nutrition programs, including the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program, to determine how much a particular food contributes to federal meal pattern requirements.

Participating schools will feature Impossible Foods’ plant-based meat in dishes including Impossible Street Tacos, Impossible Frito Pie, and Spaghetti with Impossible Meat Sauce, said the company, which will offer free cases of meat to pilot schools and distribute surveys to get feedback on what kids like and don't like.

'If we can displace even half the ground beef kids eat in schools with Impossible, the water, greenhouse gas and land savings are enormous'

The margins involved in supplying the K-12 foodservice sector can be notoriously slim, and there are complex local government procurement processes, regulatory and labeling requirements to navigate. 

However, it's a large market​, and there is strategic value in introducing plant-based products and brands to children, who can have a significant influence on how overall households shop.

"There are 50 million plus K-12 kids in the US and that represents an attractive market," ​Impossible Foods VP communications Jessica Appelgren told FoodNavigator-USA.

"But the way we think about this is also in progress towards our mission: If we can displace even half the ground beef kids eat in schools with Impossible, the water, greenhouse gas and land savings are enormous." 

Dr Pat Brown CEO Impossible Foods
Impossible Foods CEO Dr Pat Brown: "Schools not only play a role in shaping children’s dietary patterns, they play an important role in providing early education about climate change and its root causes. We are thrilled to be partnering with K-12 school districts across the country to lower barriers to access our plant-based meat for this change-making generation.”

'We anticipate a healthy amount of interest'

Impossible Foods has already struck deals with private and charter schools across the country and has fielded many queries from schools. However, today's announcement should "alert the larger market of our intent to sell to schools, so we anticipate a healthy amount of interest once this news goes live​," added Appelgren.

While products from several plant-based brands including Dr Praeger's (vegan burger​) and Morningstar Farms​ (Kellogg's) have secured CN labels, said the company, "Impossible's product, unlike others, performs in multiple K-12 recipes from burgers to tacos to spaghetti and in that capacity, it is the first true replacement for ground beef with a CN label that we are aware of.

"The CN labeled Impossible products, Impossible Burger patties and 5lb bulk Impossible Burger, are readily available through foodservice broad-line distributors nationally, making it possible for districts to add the Impossible Burger to their menus now, for summer programs and for the 2021/22 school year."

Schools and plant-based meat

More than 230 school districts are now listed as partners on Meatless Monday’s website​, and some have taken bold steps to shift eating patterns, with 'processed' meats banned from New York City public schools in 2019​, shortly after Santa Barbara's Unified School District announced plans to ditch them in late 2018.

However other initiatives such as California Bill AB-479​ - which would have incentivized K-12 public schools to expand their plant-based food and beverage offerings - have not made any headway.

Plant-based meat options also remain relatively limited for the K-12 sector, notes the Good Food Institute, which says there is a real opportunity for manufacturers to develop new products that appeal to kids, are easily stored and prepared, and are competitively priced.

Sodexo: 'The Impossible Burger is a product we think kids are going to get excited about'

Sourcing plant-based meats can also help foodservice players meet sustainability goals now built into their procurement strategies, said Michael Morris at Sodexo​. 

"Increasing plant-based menu options is a key part of our strategy to reduce carbon emissions by 34% by 2025. The Impossible Burger is a product we think kids are going to get excited about. We are interested in how the popularity of this low-carbon food can help effectively lower a whole district’s carbon footprint, while also getting kids more engaged in thinking about the food they eat and the connection to the planet.”

In Aberdeen Washington, where middle and high school students have been road-testing Impossible Burgers and Impossible Meat Sauce on spaghetti, there was a “strong response and engagement from both students and teachers,” ​said Superintendent Alicia Henderson.

Alternate protein products in schools must have PDCAAS of >0.8

Picture credit: Impossible Foods

A 4oz Impossible Burger​ contains 240 calories, 19g protein, 14g total fat, 8g saturated fat, 3g dietary fiber, 370mg sodium and a variety of vitamins and minerals including zinc, calcium, iron, potassium, and vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6 and B12.

As a point of comparison, a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder 100% Beef Patty​​​​​​ (prepared with grill seasoning) – which also contains iron, zinc and B vitamins - contains ​​​220 calories, 18g protein, 16g fat, 7g saturated fat, no dietary fiber, and 210mg sodium.

To qualify as alternate protein products (APPs)​ in the National School Lunch Program​ and the Child and Adult Care Food Program​ firms can use “soy or other vegetable protein sources​” provided that the “biological quality of the protein in the APP must be at least 80% of casein (milk protein),”​ determined by Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (ie. PDCAAS of at least 0.8; 1.00 is the highest possible score).

According to Impossible Foods, the soy protein concentrate used as the main ingredient in its plant-based meats has a PDCAAS of 0.95, while conventional ground beef from cows has a published PDCAAS of 0.92.

Kids and the plant-based trend

According to Mintel data presented by the Good Food Institute at FoodNavigator-USA’s virtual FOOD FOR KIDS​ event last year, 81% of households with children include plant-based proteins in meals compared to 66% of households without children, while families with children also over-index for plant-based milk and yogurt sales.

Similarly, parents of children under 18 are more likely to consume plant-based meat than non-parents, and are more likely to think plant-based proteins are healthier than animal-based proteins, said the GFI.

Citing Mintel data from 2020, Impossible Foods noted that 71% of parents with children aged under 18 say their kids help to pick out food at the grocery store, again underlining the value in trying to start a conversation with children about food and climate change in schools.

Q: How much do you think each of these things adds to the climate change problem?

'Kids care about climate change'

According to a March 2021 survey of 1,200 children aged 5-18 commissioned by Impossible Foods, 80% of kids were aware of climate change, although they were less aware of the environmental impact of industrial-scale animal agriculture, said the company, which gave kids a list of prompts (see graphic above), but noted that: “Kids are unlikely to identify animal agriculture as a key climate threat because they often don’t know that it is.”

After showing kids a "statement about animal agriculture's contribution to climate change​" (the wording of which is not provided in the summary of the survey findings), kids – unsurprisingly - were "more likely to say it was an important issue,” ​said Impossible Foods.

“Our research shows that kids care about climate change, and they want to do something about it," ​said the company, which said 97% of the kids it surveyed in March ate meat at least once a week.

"But they’re still far more likely to take actions like recycling or limiting food waste than they are to stop eating meat, even when they’re educated about climate change contributors. That’s why it’s so important to give them an easy solution​ [ie. Impossible meat products].

Environment a bigger motivator than animal welfare for kids?

The company added: “The Impossible Burger taps into two key needs for kids: the desire to eat something tasty, and the urge to feel like they are making a difference... In our recent survey, we showed kids a description of the Impossible Burger and asked them what they thought. At least half said they would be excited to have the Impossible Burger available at their school.

“When we asked what part of the description made them most interested in Impossible Burger, the top reason was the environmental stats -- 96% less land, 87% less water, and 89% less GHG emissions than a burger from cows. The second most important reason? It’s juicy and delicious.”

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