Impossible Foods looks to hire more than 100 scientists in quest for dairy-free milk and meat alternatives

Patrick Brown, founder and CEO of Impossible Foods discusses building a business around removing animals from the human food chain during the TechCrunch Disrupt forum in San Francisco, October 2, 2019.

Kate Munsch | Reuters

Impossible Foods’ next big innovation could be dairy-free milk that looks, acts and tastes just like cow’s milk.

The prototype is just one step toward Impossible’s long-term goal of eliminating animal agriculture, which contributes about 14.5% of global greenhouse emissions, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization.

The company shared a prototype of the product on Tuesday as it announced plans to hire more than 100 scientists to double its research and development team over the next year and accelerate new product development. As part of its hiring plans, it is launching a program to add 10 scientists who would otherwise work in academia.

At this time, Impossible doesn’t have any launch plans for Impossible Milk. Other products that the company wants to tackle include realistic steak and fish alternatives. So far, it sells realistic beef and sausage products made with soy protein and heme.

Industry analysts have pointed to nondairy milks as a marker for the potential success of meat alternatives from Impossible, Beyond Meat and other companies. The popularity of soy milk and other dairy-free alternatives has helped lead to the decline of cow milk consumption in the U.S. In 1984, milk consumption represented a 15% share of all eating occasions, according to the NPD Group. By 2019, milk represents only a 9% share.

Last year, nondairy milks were a $1.8 billion market. But plant and nut milks aren’t perfect replacements for cow’s milk. For example, cold plant milks can curdle when added to hot coffee. And Impossible CEO Pat Brown told journalists on a Zoom call, with a background of the Amazon rainforest burning, that he hates the taste of soy milk.

“The plant-based alternatives that are out there are inadequate,” Brown said. “The reality is that if they weren’t, there wouldn’t be a dairy market.”

The privately owned company is reportedly valued at nearly $4 billion after its latest funding round in August. Rival Beyond Meat, which went public more than a year ago, has a market value of $11.2 billion.