One of the latest trends in food is plant-based meat substitutes. Many people are swapping meat for other sources of protein. If the food growers and producers approach this trend responsibly and work together, it has the potential to positively impact the lives of consumers in many ways. Two famous companies are working toward that shared goal with a new partnership. The partnership will make one of the most popular protein-based foods, the meatless burger, more widely available.
One of the most surprising events in the global culture over the last two years has been how quickly the idea of meatless burgers has become accepted by popular opinion. If there’s one thing that industry experts generally agree on, it’s that the public is often incredibly slow to get onboard with new changes. Companies who seek to revolutionize an industry or change the way the market thinks about that industry are often geared up for the long haul, anticipating years or even decades of worming their way into the public’s thinking and chipping away at its resistance to change.
But the most seemingly impossible feat that companies like Impossible Foods have pulled off is that public opinion seems to have gotten onboard with meatless burgers almost overnight. These products first entered the public consciousness as recently as a couple of years ago, with many people only hearing about them for the first time in 2019. And yet, it seems like almost everyone is open to the idea of a burger (and other meat products) that’s made entirely without the presence of an animal.
So, what can explain such a quick adoption from the public?
Three factors are likely at play. First, and most importantly according to many experts, Impossible Foods has created a burger that’s truly indistinguishable from traditional meat. It tastes like beef, it looks like beef, it feels like beef, and it even behaves like beef. Impossible has managed to give their patties the ‘bleeding’ effect that’s a trademark of real beef products.
The fact that meatless burgers have managed to reach a point in which they can’t be distinguished from their ‘real’ counterparts means that consumers don’t have to make any sacrifice in their eating experience. Aside from those who will struggle with the ‘idea’ of eating a lab-grown burger and resist, there’s no reason not to enjoy a meatless burger.
That brings us to the second factor—nutrition. One of the main challenges Impossible Foods faced was packing the same amount of protein into the same calories, fat levels, and cholesterol levels. The result? They did that and more. Impossible Burgers actually have more protein and less fat, cholesterol, and calories than a traditional burger of the same size. This removes another barrier in the battle for public adoption.
Finally, meatless burgers offer a more responsible and ethical alternative to animal-based meat production. They require 74 percent less water to produce. They also need 95 percent less land. In addition, their production processes emit 87 percent fewer greenhouse gases than the production of ground beef patties. All without requiring the death of a single living animal. Vegans, vegetarians, animal-rights activists can enjoy them guilt-free, as can environmental activists—and, after all, can any of us afford not to be environmental activists at this point?
But what exactly is the Impossible Burger? How is it made? And how did it lead to one of the most significant partnerships the food industry has seen in years?
What Is the Impossible Burger?
People who have ordered food at trendy restaurants may have noticed this specific burger on the menu in recent months. The signature burger is made by Impossible Foods. The patty, which looks like regular ground beef, does not contain any meat or animal byproducts. It is made from multiple proteins, which are extracted from plants. In addition to water, the main ingredients in the burger patty are:
- textured wheat protein
- potato protein
- coconut oil
- soy protein
You’ll notice three proteins in that last, which has been key to making the Impossible Burger such a viable alternative to meat-based burgers. Protein is one of the main building blocks of beef (and all animal meat), so any really viable alternative would have to feature protein as a key element as well. But protein isn’t the only thing that makes an Impossible Burger look, taste, and feel like the real thing.
It also includes salt and a few other trace ingredients that are natural. One of the most interesting aspects of the burger is the inclusion of heme, which gives it a bleeding visual effect. Scientists discovered that heme is part of what gives meat its distinct flavor. Also, it helps carry oxygen to tissues. However, heme does not only exist in animals. It also exists in plants, which is why the creators of the Impossible Burger used it. In this way, the burger both tastes and looks similar to a beef patty.
This commitment is largely what’s set Impossible Foods apart from the competition. They recognized early on that it wouldn’t be enough to be close to the real thing—they had to be identical. Only then would they be able to overcome public resistance and the feeling that consumers were sacrificing quality. This dual understanding of the scientific needs and the marketing needs has been a key signature of Impossible Foods, and it’s what led them to impress partners like OSI Group and create partnerships that would allow for lasting success.
The Impossible Burger was originally released in the middle of 2016. It was not sold at retail grocery stores and was produced in small quantities. Until 2017, it was only on the menu in a handful of restaurants. By the end of 2018, its popularity soared to the point when it was offered in about 3,000 food venues. Since the demand for the burger is still so high, with over 17,000 food venues expected to offer it by the end of 2019, Impossible Foods is now partnering with OSI Group to mass-produce the plant-based protein patties.
OSI Group is a major producer of meat products, and has been known as one of the main suppliers for McDonalds for many years. Their decision to jump into the meatless meat game shows their commitment to being agile and adaptable, rather than dragging their feet like some other large and entrenched companies can tend to do at their own peril. To the OSI Group leadership, Impossible Burgers are producing meat—just not in the traditional way that the market is accustomed to seeing. And since producing meat is what OSI Group does best, they considered it a natural pairing to team up with Impossible Foods and give them the production abilities necessary to continue expanding their output at the astronomical rate their blazing-fast growth requires.
What to Expect from OSI Group and Impossible Foods Partnership
Impossible Foods contacted OSI Group after it conducted extensive research. In an interview, an executive from Impossible said that the company chose OSI for its capacity in production capabilities. Impossible needed a company with the ability to scale operations to produce the Impossible Burger in larger amounts over time. When Impossible started selling its meatless burgers in 2016, it produced them only in California and New Jersey in limited facilities. The company opened a larger plant in California in 2017. When that production facility opened, the company announced that it would produce about one million pounds of plant-based protein each year.
This is an astounding figure for a company that didn’t even have a product at market as recently as three years ago. With the very first Impossible Burger introduced in 2016, the company is set to be featured in over 17,000 restaurants by the end of the year. And that’s not to mention the retail partnerships that are on the horizon.
This latest partnership with OSI Group comes after the company received Food and Drug Administration approval of its meat substitute. When the FDA issues a GRAS designation to a product, it means that it is generally recognized as safe. This is likely to make it even more attractive to consumers. Independent and chain restaurants across the country were happy to learn about the recent partnership, which will greatly increase the volume of available Impossible Burgers. When a fast-food chain started buying mass quantities of the meatless patties, the demand response was overwhelmingly high. Since it was so high that Impossible could not fulfill every request, the company sought a production facility with the ability to meet its growing needs.
The FDA approval also means that restaurants won’t be the only place to access Impossible Burgers. Soon, they’ll be on grocery store shelves as well. That means anyone will be able to throw some Impossible Burgers on their grill at home with a quick trip to the local grocery store. It’s truly an astounding journey for a company that just recently was considered an experimental company that was likely to stay that way for some time. But with a powerful blend of scientific prowess and marketing power, it seems anything is possible.
OSI Group, for their part, has been a long-time meat supplier for McDonald’s. Because of OSI’s new collaborative production partnership with Impossible, many people are speculating about the possibility of McDonald’s adding its own meatless burger in the near future. Meatless burgers may attract more customers who would not otherwise eat fast food, which mostly consists of meat or menu items with animal byproducts. More than four major fast-food chains have already added meat substitute products from Impossible Foods to their menus.
McDonald’s, arguably the most iconic fast-food chain in history, is a cultural institution that’s as recognizable as any brand on earth. The potential adoption of Impossible Burgers by the biggest name in the game would mean that meatless burgers would have officially arrived and are here to stay. While it’s unclear whether this was an underlying motivation behind the partnership, it has many industry insiders speculating about whether a major McDonald’s announcement is on the horizon.
Impossible Foods expressed confidence in OSI Group’s ability to help boost production enormously in the coming months. An executive of Impossible said that the burgers are currently sold in about 10,000 restaurants. With OSI’s help to alleviate production pressure, it aims to be in about 17,000 restaurants by the end of the year. OSI Group has already added special equipment to mass-produce the burgers, which indicates that the partnership is likely not a short-term arrangement. By September, Impossible Burger availability should be higher. To meet demand and remain a top competitor in the plant-based protein industry, it was a strategic choice for Impossible Foods to partner with OSI Group. Food experts say that meat alternatives are here to stay, and the trend has only shown signs of rapid growth among Impossible Foods and its meat substitute competitors.
History of OSI Group
In 1909, OSI Group started as a modest-sized family meat market in Oak Park, Illinois. Otto Kolschowsky, a German immigrant, started the business just a couple of years after he arrived in the United States. The market expanded in 1917 to nearby Maywood. In 1928, the name of the company changed to Otto & Sons. Throughout the next 30 years, the company grew and established a strong reputation for selling high-quality meat. When the first McDonald’s restaurant opened in Illinois in 1955, Otto & Sons became the company’s meat supplier. As the restaurant grew into a nationwide chain, additional meat suppliers were hired. Starting in the 1960s, Otto & Sons supplied meat that was frozen through cryogenic freezing to the growing fast-food chain.
As McDonald’s continued its rapid expansion, Otto & Sons opened a high-volume production plant in the 1970s in Chicago. The plant had special machines and liquid nitrogen tunnels for meat freezing. Around that time, it made a special unit dedicated only to producing McDonald’s products. In 1975, Otto & Sons became OSI Industries. OSI expanded even more in the 1990s, and the company’s expansion reached a global level by the early 2000s. It entered new markets in China, India, and the Philippines. That expansion was followed by multiple acquisitions. Flagship Europe, a former Tyson production plant, and Baho Food are a few of its recent major acquisitions.