- The carbon footprint of the latest Impossible Burger recipe is 89% smaller than a burger made from real beef, according to a science-based life cycle assessment released by the company this week. The report found the Impossible Burger reduces environmental impacts in every category studied, resulting in use of 87% less water, 96% less land, 89% fewer greenhouse gas emissions and 92% fewer aquatic pollutants.
- The assessment was verified by the Swiss sustainability consulting group Quantis, the company said in a release. It looked at impacts of producing the plant-based Impossible Burger compared to beef in the industrial livestock system across these environmental categories.
- "We are dead serious about our mission of providing vastly more sustainable options than livestock in the food chain," Patrick Brown, Impossible Foods’ CEO, chairman and founder, said in a release. "To do that, we have to make meat that’s delicious, nutritious, versatile and affordable — and it must also be vastly more efficient and sustainable than anything else on the market."
These numbers relate to what the company is calling "Impossible Burger 2.0," the new gluten-free formulation that debuted in January at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and at selected restaurants. Impossible Foods said it plans to do a retail launch later this year of the next-generation recipe that switched out textured wheat protein for soy protein concentrate.
The product reformulation improved the Impossible Burger's sustainability credentials, according to Fast Company. That's due to greater company efficiency as it scales up and the wheat-to-soy ingredient change since soy has a higher yield per acre. Still, the business magazine noted that "the majority of the impact simply comes from the fact that the product isn’t made from an animal."
Additional recipe changes included reducing the salt content, replacing some coconut oil with sunflower oil and removing konjac gum and xanthan gum, Food Navigator reported. Such alterations are likely to appeal to consumers who increasingly look for foods free from certain ingredients, including antibiotics, pesticides and gluten.
Impossible Foods has a lot to gain by publicizing this life cycle assessment because it underscores the relative sustainability details of plant-based products versus those from traditional animal-based agriculture. For consumers looking to reduce their meat consumption, lighten their carbon footprint, and support cleaner labels and transparency, this is likely to enhance the Impossible brand even more.
The company seems to be trying to transmit as much transparency as possible when it comes to product ingredients, which is another value consumers hold dear. Shoppers looking for protein products taking less land and water to produce are likely to support manufacturers who follow through when it comes to sustainability.
Still, Impossible Foods knows those elements aren't enough if the product doesn't appeal to consumers when it comes to the all-important issue of flavor.
"What we really wanted was to create a delicious product that can compete with beef on taste and craveability,” Rebekah Moses, senior manager of impact strategy, told Fast Company. "That’s the primary motivator for most people, and that’s who we want to empower by providing a more planet-friendly option. Sustainability attributes are, for most consumers, a 'nice to have' in food choice, rather than the driving force of purchasing."
One of the company's main competitors, Beyond Meat's Beyond Burger, which is made with pea protein, has enjoyed a strong retail presence for years. Beyond Meat recently expanded its product line to include a ground beef option made from pea, mung bean and rice proteins, but with 25% less saturated fat than the real thing. The company, which filed for a $100-million IPO last fall, is trying to take market share from the ground beef market — the largest segment in the beef category.
Beyond Meat has positioned its products as healthier, more ethical and more sustainable since introducing them in 2016, according to Forbes. This past fall, the company had the University of Michigan's Center for Sustainable Systems apply a life cycle analysis to its Beyond Burger. Similar to the Impossible Burger assessment, this one found production of the Beyond Burger produced 90% fewer GHG emissions, needed 46% less non-renewable energy, had more than 99% less impact on water scarcity and 93% less on land use than a one-quarter pound of beef.
Quantifying plant-based sustainability claims could provide marketing and financial advantages for companies such as Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat — along with other competitors in the space, such as Nestlé's Garden Gourmet Incredible Burger and the Lightlife Burger. Savvy consumers are likely to want to support manufacturers and products focused on improving the food system in ways that can help feed the planet and also preserve it.