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Climate Education for the Everyday Eater: 5 Questions with Impossible Foods

Author: Apeel Team

As part of our virtual conversation series, Good Bites, we’ve been talking to the food industry’s sustainability change-makers to get their takes on how we can address food waste and climate change.

One of the inspiring brands we spoke with recently is the plant-based meat innovator, Impossible Foods. Rebekah Moses, their Head of Impact Strategy, joined us alongside Just Salad’s Chief Sustainability Officer, Sandra Noonan, to discuss climate change education for the everyday eater. We wanted to know more about how Rebekah and Impossible Foods think about making consumers more aware of the environmental impact of their eating habits. 

You can watch the whole Good Bites conversation with Rebekah and Sandra on our website or at the bottom of this blog post.

  1. With plant-based meat, Impossible has had to address many challenges in developing your market and communicating to your audience. Can you talk a little bit about what you found to be the most effective strategy or philosophy around educating consumers on the Impossible mission?

REBEKAH: It's definitely interesting. We created a new category and we're coming to the market within this new category. But, internally, we don't necessarily see it like that. We see ourselves as providing a new way of entering the exact same category of ground beef. Billions of people have been familiar with this category for a very, very long time. 

The key here is not asking consumers to adopt something new. The key really is you have to meet the consumers where they're at. While we talk about our mission, while we're straightforward about the intent of the company addressing climate change through plant-based options, we don't necessarily lead with that in our consumer-facing messaging. But we're starting to play with it a little bit more.

For a very long time, we've seen that consumers don't necessarily have a strong understanding of the connection of plate to planet. Only about one-third of people in the United States can make that connection in a robust way. And as a result of that consumer awareness gap, they're not necessarily going to make a decision based on climate footprint. They're going to base their food decisions on their hierarchy of needs: taste, price, and availability. So for us, it was about hitting those things–really focusing on taste, really focusing on nutrition, giving them the exact same sensory experience and the versatility of ground beef, so that they don't have to change their habits, per se. They just get a new way to experience the same thing.

  1. What kind of reactions have you gotten from consumers as you’ve tried to increase this awareness?

REBEKAH: While consumers don't necessarily have the immediate recognition of what a carbon dioxide equivalent is, it's incredibly important that, from a business perspective, we're able to start helping set that context and build that familiarity the way the nutritional label has enabled us to do for generations. 

For individuals who already have awareness of the environmental impact, for that 30% of Americans who can connect plate to planet, when we paired environmental messaging with an ad, it doubled the intent to try our product. Having that kind of prior understanding is going to really help drive behavior change at a consumer level. We, as a business, need to be there to meet them, to provide the toolkit so they can opt into it. Say, you're bringing something to a barbecue, you don't necessarily want to bring a brick of tofu instead of beef. We want to make it easy, but consumer understanding is critical. 

  1. What have you been most surprised about as you have grown your audience? What segments or types of consumers come in that maybe you guys didn't expect?

REBEKAH: I don't know that I would say it's something that surprised me so much as it’s something that’s been incredibly validating. The entire premise of the company is that by switching from animal-based meat to plant-based meat, you're eating much lower on the food chain. You have a vastly lower environmental footprint, generating 89% lower greenhouse gas emissions, using 87% less water, and requiring 96% less land. In order for those kinds of savings to be achieved, you have to have that conversion effect – getting the people who would otherwise have purchased beef.

We had to say, “Alright, who are the carnivores and omnivores? How much of our market comes from those people who regularly eat meat at least once a month? What we found is 90% to 95% of our consumer base is omnivorous and carnivorous.” Getting down to a deeper, more granular level: What product did they pass up in favor of Impossible? Did they choose us instead of chicken? Or instead of beef? That's the next area of inquiry for us from a consumer insights perspective. We were able to show with a retail study that 72% of sales of Impossible Burger came at the expense of the meat category in that grocery environment.

I do find it very important and validating that we are getting to this substitution effect. It was the big question when we launched. Since Americans already get plenty of protein, we don't need more. So we wanted to know if this will be a conversion effect. And that's exactly what we're seeing.

  1. When did you enter the pork category? How did that come about?

REBEKAH: We've launched sausage in the United States and possibly soon in Canada. Sausage is being benchmarked to any product that would come from a pork production system. Pork as its own standalone category is in our very near future, it’s the #1 consumed protein other than chicken. It's the biggest growth item globally, so that has large environmental implications for where we're sourcing feed from and where we're sourcing live animals from to feed these emerging markets. That's going to be a really important category for us as well.

  1. What are the major challenges you see facing a more long-lasting behavior change in the adoption of sustainable food choices?

REBEKAH: There is a huge role here in consumer awareness building. There's a series of Chatham House research studies from 2014 or 2015 that still bears out in statistics. When people are asked what the big contributors to climate change are, of all the categories, the only one they underestimate is food. So what is on your plate at a day-to-day level, on a consumer basis, this is the most powerful thing that you have at your disposal. But vastly too few people know about that. There are also not enough tools for them to be able to take their climate motivations that are internal and act without compromising their choices. 

So we have to be able to deliver the toolkit. We see that consumers care about climate change, you can see the anxiety of not being able to do something about it. We now just have to get people to understand that what's on your plate is the biggest choice you can make from that perspective. And you can make that choice every single day.

To check out the entire conversation with Impossible Foods and Just Salad, check out this video: