Impossible Foods Taps Longtime McDonald’s Supplier OSI Group for New Partnership

Impossible Foods Taps OSI Group for New Partnership

As the alternative meat craze intensifies, Impossible Foods, the company behind the wildly popular Impossible Burger, has partnered with a longtime McDonald’s supplier to quickly scale up to meet ever-increasing demand. According to Nielsen, sales of meat alternatives like the Impossible Burger have grown by about eight percent per year over the last five years, while meat sales have remained stagnant. With the new partnership, Impossible hopes to cement itself as one of the top suppliers of meat alternatives on a wholesale level while rolling out its products in retail stores before too long.

Few could have predicted the meteoric rise of Impossible Foods and the idea of a meatless burger. While many anticipated that it would eventually come to carve out a place in the market, none thought that it would rise so quickly to such great heights. Major fast-food chains, once thought to be the last place meatless burgers would be adopted due to their ingrained and highly optimized production methods, have already begun jumping onboard. Burger King recently announced it would rollout Impossible Burgers in all locations by the end of the year, and casual dining chain Red Robin has begun introducing the burgers in many of its restaurants.

Perhaps the most surprising element of the rise of meatless patties, and what’s allowed them to grow at such a rate, has been the lightning-fast shift in public opinion towards general comfort with the concept of burgers devoid of natural (cattle-based) beef.

Many industry insiders and social scientists believed that even if a company could create a burger that was indistinguishable in taste and texture from the real thing, customers would struggle to accept that they were eating a burger that’s essentially grown in a lab.

But surprisingly, the public has been quick to jump onboard with the concept. Some believe that this comes from the idea that eating meatless burgers, which have become truly indistinguishable from the real thing, allows people to make a responsible choice for the environment, animals, and their own personal health, without changing their habits, lifestyle, or quality of eating experience. It’s a low-barrier-of-entry way to do the right thing, and as a result the public has fully jumped onboard with meatless burgers that no one could have expected.

As a result, more and more startups have jumped into the meatless meat game. But none have been so successful or reached such a high profile as Impossible Foods, which has staked out a claim as the premier and most innovative meatless burger company on the market. Their killer feature? Their product is truly delicious, indistinguishable from real beef, and has less calories, cholesterol and fat while offering more protein than real beef. What they’ve been able to achieve has astounded industry experts and consumers alike, and it cause OSI Group to sit up and take notice.

Deal Reached

At a press conference on July 31, the senior vice president of Impossible Foods, Sheetal Shah, announced the new partnership with OSI Group. Based in suburban Chicago and a longtime primary supplier of meat products to McDonald’s, OSI Group had already installed the necessary equipment at the time that the partnership was announced. At the same time, the Redwood City, California-based Impossible Foods has doubled the capacity of its Oakland, California, facility to overcome long-running shortage issues that put the company’s expansion efforts in jeopardy.

This speaks to the fact that even Impossible Foods was caught off-guard by how quickly the demand for their burgers exploded. They anticipated a slow climb into public consciousness and regulatory approval, but both came much faster than they expected—leaving them with a mounting need for massive production at a scale they didn’t expect to reach for years or even decades.

The result? Impossible Foods had a problem. They had to meet exploding demand with limited facilities. Building these facilities takes time and costs a great deal. Naturally, they started looking for partners who could provide facilities that could be quickly and inexpensively adapted for the production of Impossible Burgers. OSI Group was a natural pairing, and the OSI Group leadership team saw a powerful opportunity to become part of a potentially lucrative and genuinely sustainable opportunity. Rather than trying to fight the tide or become a rival of groups like Impossible Foods, they realized that they existed on two sides of the same coin—and that together, they could make a great deal of coins together as partners.

Since April – and, notably, since striking deals with fast-food chains White Castle and Burger King – Impossible had been struggling to meet the surging demand for its products. Despite doubling employment at its 68,000-square-foot Oakland plant a few months ago and producing a record number of burgers in June, the company continued to struggle to meet demand. The company switched from producing pre-formed patties to bricks of protein to speed things up, and office workers voluntarily switched to the factory to assist in the effort.

This start-up spirit and willingness to adapt to changing circumstances has been a hallmark of Impossible Foods, making them the most adaptable and agile meatless burger producer on the market. OSI Group certainly took notice, admiring their ability and willingness to constantly evolve and seek new opportunities—all while keeping up with demand that no one could expected this early in their presence in the market.

Upon sealing the deal with the global meat products supplier, Impossible Foods has quickly seen production of its burgers soar. One of the original suppliers to McDonald’s, the Aurora, Illinois-based OSI Group immediately began production of Impossible Burgers in one of its Midwest facilities. This served as a lifesaving jolt of production power, without which Impossible Burgers may have experienced real production issues that could have stalled their meteoric rise. Who knows where that would have left them moving forward?

As part of its effort to scale production up as quickly as possible, Impossible brought on Dennis Woodside, a former mobile phone executive, as president. In the short term, OSI Group will help double production of the burgers for Impossible Foods. Production is expected to be quadrupled by the end of 2019. The meatless burgers were sold in 5,000 restaurants at the start of 2019, and that figure is expected to double by the end of the year.

Amazingly, this seems to be only the beginning. As the tide of public opinion continues to wash over the food and restaurant industries, more and more companies will be pressured into adopting Impossible Burgers to meet public demand. Soon, these alternatives will be expected at any dining establishment. The moment that happens, every restaurant in the country will essentially be required to provide these patties. A powerful parallel is the idea of vegan and vegetarian options on menus, or gluten-free options. As recently as a few years ago, most menus made no effort to cater to these unique diets. Now, menus are expected to have vegan and gluten-free options.

Meatless meat is expected to take the same path, which means that companies like Impossible Foods are only going to see even more exponential growth moving forward.

The partnership with OSI won’t just help Impossible meet the seemingly impossibly high demand for its products on the wholesale side. The McDonald’s supplier will also help the firm develop new products. Most notably, frozen foods for retail stores will start being produced by the end of 2019. Final FDA approval for the move happened recently, so the company has the green light to expand beyond wholesale and into retail.

That means you’ll likely see Impossible Burger patties on grocery store shelves by the end of the year. By expanding from restaurant supply to full retail options, Impossible has opened an entire world of opportunities. But those opportunities come at a cost, and that cost is the need for dramatically increased production. OSI Group made the perfect partner to meet this astounding potential demand. The Impossible Foods and OSI Group partnership meant that they would be able to manage production needs today and be poised to continually upgrade their production to meet constantly growing demand at an astronomical rate.

Impossible Foods’ Sheetal Shah on the company’s partnership with OSI Group in an effort to expand production and the company’s continued efforts to improve the quality and nutrition of its products.

Impossible Foods partners with OSI Group to tackle strong demand

Impossible Foods’ Sheetal Shah on the company’s partnership with OSI Group in an effort to expand production and the company’s continued efforts to improve the quality and nutrition of its products.

What Makes Impossible Burgers So Special?

Meatless burgers have been around for ages; Boca burgers and Gardenburgers are just two popular examples. Why, then, is the Impossible brand making such a splash? It mostly has to do with the unique science behind the meat alternative. The patties rely on heme, a molecule that plays a key role in the way that meat “behaves.” Heme is abundant in animal muscle tissues, but it’s also found in a variety of plants. Impossible selected the leghemoglobin molecule, which is found in the roots of legumes, for its products. The molecule was approved for use in food production by the FDA in July 2012 – but only for foods cooked in restaurants. A new approval as a food colorant was needed for retail sales to happen, and that approval is expected to take effect on September 4, 2019.

In addition to heme, which lends the burgers a meatier consistency and even a pink middle, Impossible Burgers are flecked with coconut fat in lieu of animal fat. They also contain potato proteins that produce a firm exterior that is suitable for searing.

History of the Impossible Burger

Given that meatless burgers have been readily available for some time, what spurred the initial creation of the Impossible Burger? It all started in 2009, when Patrick O. Brown, a Stanford biochemistry professor, founded Impossible Foods in 2011. By July 2012, the company’s products were in around 3,000 restaurants; by the end of that year, they were in more than 5,000 restaurants across all 50 states.

In March 2017, the company announced that it would be building its first large-scale plant, which opened in Oakland and immediately started producing one million pounds per month of the patties. In January 2019, in response to concerns over high sodium levels, the company debuted the Impossible Burger 2.0. The product contains 30 percent less sodium and 40 percent less saturated fat than its predecessor, and it is also gluten free. Research and development is currently underway for producing “whole cuts of beef” that are made from the meatless material, so meatless steaks may not be far behind.

History of OSI Group

OSI Group seems to have a knack for getting in on the ground floor of the next big thing. Founded in 1909 by German immigrant Otto Kolschowsky in Oak Park, Illinois, as a family meat market, the company expanded into the wholesale meat trade in 1917. In 1928, it assumed the name Otto & Sons, and it became a widely recognized name in the city’s meat trade.

In 1955, the first McDonald’s restaurant was opened by Ray Kroc in Des Plaines, Illinois. Otto & Sons was selected as the supplier of the chain’s beef patties. In the late 1960s, when cryogenic food processing came into the forefront, Otto & Sons accepted Kroc’s offer to become one of McDonald’s four – now five – meat suppliers. Otto & Sons built its first high-volume meat-processing plant in West Chicago in 1973, complete with patty-forming machines. During the 1990s, the company expanded around the world. Through the 2000s, it acquired numerous companies, including Amick Farms, and it acquired the former Tyson Foods plant in Chicago in 2016. Currently, OSI has more than 65 facilities across 17 countries.

Is Impossible the Future of Alternative Meat?

Along with Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods has quickly swooped in to capitalize on the alternative meat craze. However, that does not mean that its future as a top player in the industry is guaranteed. Two McDonald’s suppliers, Tyson Foods and Nestle, are currently working on their own plant-based, meat-free products. Plenty of other startups want in on the action too, including Rebellyous Foods. The Seattle-based startup has partnered with meat companies to hit the ground running with its meat-free nuggets, and its facility is expected to open in October 2019. Whether Impossible comes out on top in the end or not, however, one thing’s for sure: Vegetarians are the big winners of the meat-free burger trend.

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