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Impossible Foods: 2022 CNBC Disruptor 50

Founder: Pat Brown
CEO: Peter McGuinness
Launched: 2011
Headquarters: Redwood City, California
Funding:
$2 billion (PitchBook)
Valuation: $7 billion (PitchBook)
Key technologies:
N/A
Industry:
Food
Previous appearances on Disruptor 50 List: 4 (No. 24 in 2021)

Impossible Foods is no longer a new name, but its mission hasn’t changed: addressing the threat of climate change caused by animal agriculture by inventing plant-based alternatives to meat, fish and dairy products that use less land, water and energy in production.

While the Impossible Burger remains its flagship product, the lineup has been growing quickly within the past year, with the introduction of the Impossible Sausage, Impossible Chicken Nuggets, Impossible Meatballs and Impossible Pork, all of which has led to an expanded presence in Walmart, Trader Joe’s and Costco.

The company is in close to 25,000 grocery stores and claims to be in more restaurants (40,000 by its count, across three continents) than any other plant-based brand. It also recently expanded to three new international markets — the United Arab Emirates, Australia, and New Zealand. 

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Impossible, which remains privately held, reported that its fourth-quarter retail revenue increased by 85% and that it has “hundreds of millions” in sales.

One grocery deal in the U.S. this year, in particular, stands out. 

In March, Kroger announced a partnership with Impossible Foods for its private-label plant-based protein business, a big win for the company against rival Beyond Meat, but also an acknowledgment that it might need to accept the lower margin supermarket-brand shelf space to win.

Impossible had already cut its suggested grocery store prices by 20% before the Kroger deal, and the more aggressive pricing strategy reflects just how saturated the plant-based protein market became in a short period of time. Beyond Meat soared in its early days as a public company. The fast food brands that embraced the concept made hot marketing of it for a hot minute. That was followed by peak pandemic grocery store sales as restaurant business dwindled. But in the end, the peaks and valleys have led to concerns about the sustainable growth trajectory of this food category.

Beyond Meat shares have fallen from a high of over $200 in 2019 to as low as $20 after its most recent earnings disappointment last week, when they hit their lowest-ever stock price – below the IPO price.

The pricing environment has one potential solution: Impossible being able to deliver on the biggest goal of all among plant-based competitors, achieving price parity with animal meat and traditional competitors in the livestock industry, including Tyson Foods, JBS Foods and Smithfield Foods. 

Investors haven’t soured on the idea. In November, Impossible Foods secured $500 million in funding, bringing its total raise to nearly $2 billion since its founding in 2011. The most recent deal valued the company at $7 billion.

The company has experienced some key management changes, with David Borecky taking over as CFO from Impossible Foods veteran David Lee in 2021. Of even more significance, Stanford University biochemist and Impossible Foods founder Pat Brown finally handed over the top post at the company to a “professional manager,” former Chobani chief operating officer Peter McGuinness, in April. Brown became “chief visionary officer” and says he is committed to the same goal as always: eliminating animal meat by 2035.

It’s been reported the company has been looking to go public, but the current market is a tough one for new issues, and McGuinness told CNBC in a March interview, “There’s no rush or urgency to go public.”

The new CEO said the company is in a “very strong cash position” and added that he was “not coming in to fix anything, I’m coming in to try to help the company grow more than it’s already grown.”

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