Business Recoded … Pat Brown, the geneticist who created Impossible Foods is on a mission to rid the world of animals-based foods

January 15, 2020

In an exclusive extract from my forthcoming book Business Recoded meet one of the most inspiring business leaders, shaking up today’s world. He embraces the opportunities of relentless change, the power of disruptive technologies, and the courage to create a better future in their own vision. In the book, I explore the stories of many of the world’s most fascinating leaders right now, and develop 49 codes that help you redefine the future of your business, and yourself.

The Leadership Code of Patrick Brown

The geneticist is on a mission to rid the world of animal-based foods, and creating plant-based burgers that “smell, sizzle and taste just as good as beef.”

Brown is a geneticist on a mission to rid the world of animal foods. In 2009 he took a sabbatical from his academic career to reflect on how he could make a bigger difference to the world. He decided that the environmental threat was most the most profound challenge he could find, and could add most value to by focusing on the use of animals to make food.

Beef farming has caused huge destruction to rainforests, and the animals themselves significantly add to the world’s carbon emissions – more than the entire world’s transportation systems. He organised a conference on “the role of animals in a sustainable global food system” and was frustrated by nice words but little action.

He resolved that the best strategy would be to create a product that competed against animal foods commercially.

“Why does meat smell, feel, cook and taste like meat?” he challenged his small team of scientists. He believed that the answer lay in heme, the iron-containing molecule in blood, a component of haemoglobin. He started exploring how he could source the molecule in alternative ways from nature.

The answer lay in the roots of clover, and later he discovered, also in soybean. And from that moment in 2011 he set about launching Impossible Foods. “The mission is very simple” he says. “It’s to completely replace animals in the food system by 2035.” He calls it “the most important and urgent problem in the world.”

5 years later, and with $300 million funding, they launched the Impossible Burger, a burger that looked, smelt, sizzled and tasted just as good as a traditional beef version. Even better when you consider its wider impact on the world.

His mission is not to target vegetarian, but to win over meat-eaters, by understanding what drives them to choose meat – taste, smell, texture – and then offer those benefits in a better way. Indeed he defines his burger as meat – “animals are a food production technology, and plants are another” he says, and so seeks to frame is product not as alternative, but as better.

In 2016, the World Economic Forum named Brown a Technology Pioneer for his design, development and deployment of new technologies and innovations “poised to have a significant impact on business and society.”

Impossible is now focused on developing a much broader portfolio of foods, including plant-based pork, chicken and fish. Whilst beef farming is the most damaging  to the environment, fishing is a close second. The total population of fish in oceans and rivers is less than half of what it was 40 years ago because of over fishing, and some species have declined in numbers by 90%.

In an interview with Time magazine, Brown reflected “Right now, the dominant relationship between humans and animals is exploitative. Replacing animals as a food production technology will absolutely change that. Hopefully, rather than looking at animals essentially as a technology for producing food, we’ll appreciate them more for the role that they play in making this a beautiful planet to live on.”

© Peter Fisk 2020. Business Recoded will be published in September 2020.