Former Chobani president Peter McGuinness to join Impossible Foods as CEO: 'This isn’t a business that needs fixing, I’m here to help turbo charge growth...'

By Elaine Watson contact

- Last updated on GMT

Peter McGuinness: 'There's a huge opportunity to increase distribution points...'
Peter McGuinness: 'There's a huge opportunity to increase distribution points...'

Related tags: Peter McGuinness, Chobani, Impossible Foods, plant-based meat, Impossible Burger

Former Chobani president Peter McGuinness – who has spent the last several years running a dairy company, albeit one that has recently launched several plant-based products - is set to take the helm at Impossible Foods, a firm on a mission to “replace the world’s most destructive technology, the use of animals for food production.”

McGuinness – who departed Chobani earlier this month – will assume the role of CEO at Impossible Foods on April 3, while founder Dr Pat Brown will move to the role of chief visionary officer, leading R&D, strategic initiatives, and public advocacy.

Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA this afternoon, McGuinness said he had connected with Impossible Foods relatively recently: “I spoke to some  of the board members who I thought were really smart, interesting and passionate, and then I spent some time with​ [founder Dr] Pat ​[Brown], and we just clicked."

While Brown explained in a blog post ​this morning that the business he founded in 2011 "has grown in size, scale and complexity," ​McGuinness stressed that Impossible Foods “isn’t a business that needs fixing; retail sales were up 85% year on year in Q4  2021, and Pat is a pioneer and a visionary​, so I’m here to help turbo charge the business, which is doing great, scaling and expanding and growing exponentially.”

'There's not a category problem [meat alternatives], there's a competition problem'

Asked about the recent slowdown in sales growth​ in the US retail market for plant-based meat, and whether the addressable market might not be as big as some commentators had predicted, he said the category had become crowded with me-too products as firms fueled by FOMO had piled into the market with products that were not ready for prime time: “I don't really care about the current category growth because it's full of a bunch of cats and dogs and not good options.

“But Impossible - because it’s so good - as it gets more distributed and becomes more available and more people try it, will drive category growth. So the category is maybe slowing down because some of these bad ones are not doing well and some of the other ones can't supply, but that doesn't mean there's a category problem, there's a competition problem.”

'I’m an average consumer, I eat a good amount of meat...'

Impossible Foods’ basic contention, that people will switch to plant-based - whether they care about human or planetary health or not - if you create products that require zero compromise, made sense to him, said McGuinness, who said his mission was to make Impossible products more accessible.

“In this case, I’m an average consumer, I eat a good amount of meat, I’m not an elitist specialty store guy, and my perception lagged the reality. It was like, Oh, I had one of those Garden burgers a few years ago and it wasn’t very good, so when I bought the​ [Impossible Foods] product, I found it was satiating and satisfying, and I wasn’t compromising at all.”

'The food is the unlock'

While some brands in the segment are attempting to differentiate themselves through cleaner labels, or improved nutritionals, which are both important, at this early stage in the market's evolution, the brands that will win are the ones that deliver the best experience, he said.

“The food is the unlock. And I think Impossible is going to drive the growth of the category because it makes the best products. There's a climate component to it and a displacing ​[animal] meat component, but the products have to stand on their own merits."

That said, Impossible Foods had also built a compelling brand, he said. 

“Impossible also happens to be a very cool name that you can do a lot of fun stuff with, and I think it will become a very, very powerful brand.”

Impossible Foods March 2022
Impossible Foods' current offering includes plant-based ground beef, patties, chicken nuggets, pork sausage, and meatballs. Image credits: Impossible Foods

'There's a huge opportunity to increase distribution points'

Asked about growth opportunities, he added: “There's a huge opportunity to increase distribution points, not only in food service, through hospitality and restaurants, but a massive opportunity at retail grocery stores, national chains, local, independents.

Asked about the innovation pipeline, which includes seafood, dairy, and egg replacements, he said: “The focus in the near term is getting the awareness, trial, repeat and distribution of the existing products, the ground beef, the patties, the chicken nuggets, the pork sausage, the meatballs. Can it go into fish? Sure, yes, but there's a massive growth opportunity for the current products​ [that’s still untapped].”

IPO: 'I don't think it's a good time for anyone right now...'

As for the company’s plans for an initial public offering (IPO), he said: “I don't think it's a good time for anyone right now as the markets are so incredibly volatile. And in the case of Impossible, the cash position is very strong, so there's plenty of investment to fuel all the growth, so there's no urgency on going public right now.”

McGuinness’ immediate priority is to “increase awareness and trial of Impossible products and increase distribution​,” he added.

'A full range of meats and dairy products for every cultural region in the world'

Founded by Dr Pat Brown in 2011, San Francisco-based Impossible Foods​​ entered the foodservice market in 2016 and made an aggressive push into retail in 2020. It does not disclose revenues, but its products are now sold in 25,000+ grocery stores and 40,000+ foodservice locations across the US, Canada, Hong Kong, and Singapore.   

The firm – which has a stated goal to “produce a full range of meats and dairy products for every cultural region in the world” ​​– ​​is best-known for its beef, pork, and chicken substitutes (Impossible Burger, Impossible Chicken Nuggets, Impossible Pork, Impossible Sausage, Impossible Meatballs). 

However, it is also working on steak, seafood, and eggs, and ​has teased​​ a plant-based milk product claimed to be “better than anything that comes from a cow."

Dr Pat Brown: 'The demands of that business have increasingly encroached on the time I have available to lead strategic initiatives'

impossible foods pat brown
Dr Pat Brown: 'The leadership demands of the commercial business will inevitably continue to grow...'

In a blog post ​released this morning, Dr Brown explained that the time had come to bring in a CEO so that he can focus on more strategic initiatives:

As Impossible’s business has grown in size, scale, and complexity, the demands of that business have increasingly encroached on the time I have available to lead strategic initiatives; to communicate our mission to the public and policy-makers; and most importantly, to guide the research and technology innovation that continues to power our long-term success.

“Given the momentum of our business, our accelerating product pipeline, ongoing international expansion and the magnitude of our mission, the leadership demands of the commercial business will inevitably continue to grow.

“Peter and I will work together to lead Impossible and its long-term strategy, combining our complimentary strengths and experience.”

Plant-based-meat-GettyImages-rocky89
GettyImages-rocky89

Impossible Foods has filed a suite of patents​ around its meat alternatives and its flagship ingredient heme (soy leghemoglobin), which imparts a red-brown color and meaty flavor which it claims gives its burgers a significant edge in the marketplace. 

In a lawsuit​ filed against foodtech company Motif FoodWorks earlier this month, Impossible Foods says it is seeking unspecified damages and injunctive relief to “protect its innovative technology and products against patent infringement.”

Motif, in turn, says the complaint is "nothing more than a baseless attempt by Impossible Foods to stifle competition, limit consumer choice, and impede Motif, a new and innovative company with significant business momentum.”

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