Just a few months ago, it was impossible for Impossible Burger’s parent company to compete with Beyond Meat in one key venue: grocery stores.
While Impossible Foods’ plant-based offerings were hits at chains like Restaurant Brands International’s (QSR) Burger King and White Castle, the privately held Silicon Valley company could not sell its meatless products in supermarkets until it scored approval from the Food and Drug Administration for a key ingredient—heme. This meant that the company was potentially missing out on a market worth about $100 million a year.
Impossible Foods secured the FDA’s OK on July 31, and it began selling its products in grocery stores in September. The company disclosed lobbying spending of $270,000. It reported $10,000 in Washington lobbying expenses in 2017, then $200,000 in 2018 and $60,000 in this year’s first half, according to OpenSecrets.org data.
Impossible Foods declined to say how much of that lobbying was directed at the FDA, with a spokeswoman saying it “does not comment on lobbying expenses or strategies.” But the company’s outside lobbying firms have included BGR Group, which bills itself as an advisor on “legislative and regulatory policy matters” involving the FDA.
Heme had not been sold before in uncooked form and was met with some skepticism from the FDA and consumer-advocacy groups. Impossible Foods had to prove that it was safe to eat the plant-based ingredient—it’s extracted from the roots of soybean plants. The FDA responded in July 2018 with a “no questions response,” which is seen as an approval.
But since heme is also used as a color additive to provide a “bleed” effect, Impossible Foods filed an additional petition with the FDA in November 2018. The petition was approved eight months later, clearing the way for distribution in grocery stores.
Beyond Meat (BYND) hasn’t disclosed any lobbying spending in Washington, D.C. The El Segundo, Calif.–based company’s meatless products, which feature pea protein and beet juice, appeared on store shelves in 2016. Beyond Meat has made an effort to emphasize that its offerings don’t contain heme.
“We’ve received a number of questions from our Beyond Meat consumers about heme, which we do not use,” the company said in a post on its website in 2017.
“These inquiries reinforced our understanding that folks often confuse us with Impossible Foods. We get it—there are some similarities. Our founder is named Ethan Brown. Impossible’s founder is named Pat Brown (no relation). Also, Bill Gates is an investor in both companies. And we both make plant-based burgers that the media has dubbed as ‘bleeding veggie burgers.’ ”
But Beyond Meat’s post highlighted a key difference, urging customers to look at a list of retailers already selling its products at that time: “We’re up to about 2,000 stores nationwide!”
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