- AppHarvest, a developer and operator of large greenhouse farms, hired Impossible Foods' CFO David Lee to become its president, the company said in a statement. He will start in his new role on Jan. 25.
- In the newly created role, AppHarvest said Lee will develop strategy and lead the sales, marketing and finance functions at the startup.
- The addition of Lee to AppHarvest marks a busy year for the indoor farming operator, which has raised money from investors, opened its first greenhouse and announced plans to go public by merging with a blank check company valuing its business at $1 billion.
Few sectors in the food space were as hot as the indoor greenhouse segment in 2020 with several businesses announcing partnerships and raising hundreds of millions of dollars to fund their rapid growth. AppHarvest was among the most active.
In September 2020, AppHarvest announced a merger with Novus Capital, a publicly traded special purpose acquisition company that will allow it to go public early this year — providing $475 million in gross proceeds to help it grow. Then in October, AppHarvest opened its 2.76 million-square-foot facility in Kentucky, which allows its produce to reach about 70% of the U.S. population in one day's drive, including consumers in Washington, D.C., New York, Philadelphia and Boston.
But AppHarvest's busy and largely successful 2020 was all done as a private company. The decision to go public will further open up its finances to the world. Lee's experience at the fast-growing Impossible Foods will be equally valuable for AppHarvest and its aggressive growth plans.
Lee has served as Impossible's CFO since December 2015, where he helped grow the company and secure more than $1.3 billion in funding to accelerate manufacturing, product development and distribution, according to AppHarvest. He also worked as COO of Impossible from 2015 to 2019, during a period of significant transformation for the company.
Now, AppHarvest is undergoing its own rapid transformation. In January, AppHarvest expects to begin the first harvest of tomatoes from the flagship farm in Kentucky. The company has two additional facilities under construction in the state, with nine potential projects in the pipeline through 2025. Lee is no stranger to AppHarvest, having served on its board since August 2020, so it should be an easy transition when he joins the company later this month.
Jonathan Webb, the founder and CEO of AppHarvest, said in the release that Lee brings a skillset amassed during decades of experience at Del Monte, Zynga and most recently Impossible that will "help us build AppHarvest into an iconic brand and sustainable foods company that disrupts traditional agriculture." Indoor greenhouses are lauded for their ability to grow crops all year round, and do so with less soil and water while eschewing chemicals.
For Impossible, Lee's departure at the plant-based powerhouse comes as the company remains on its own fast track despite disruptions to the business brought on by the pandemic.
Impossible accelerated expansion of its retail and e-commerce businesses during the outbreak with more consumers eating at home and looking for healthier plant-based options. At the same time, Impossible's restaurant business, where its products are found in 33,000 locations in the U.S., has slowed.
Lee no doubt has been instrumental in helping Impossible raise money, including $700 million in 2020 to help grow the company and enter new product categories like milk and pork. He was intricately familiar with its business after working at various top roles for several years, so his departure could be a near-term blow for the company, though it's unlikely to derail its position as one of the leaders in the fast-growing plant-based meat category.