LAS VEGAS — Trade tariffs and the specter of African Swine Fever made 2019 a harrowing year for pork producers. And there may be more bad news on the horizon: The makers of the Impossible Burger announced Monday they will launch two plant-based pork products, which they claim will taste authentic enough to woo some of the world’s billions of pork eaters.
Impossible Foods’ new faux ground pork and breakfast sausage will be the first products mimicking a non-beef protein that the company has sold since it launched its first burger in 2016. The Impossible Sausage will be available at 139 U.S. Burger King locations starting at the end of this month, where it will be served in the restaurant’s “Croissan’wich” breakfast sandwich. The Impossible Pork doesn’t yet have a release date.
Meatless replicas of the real thing have taken off in popularity in recent years, as more people choose vegetarian options due to environmental, ethical and health concerns. Tyson Foods recently announced it invested in a San Francisco-based company creating plant-based shellfish, while companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Burger have focused on recreating the texture and taste of meat with plant-based ingredients.
Pork could be a particularly good bet for Impossible Foods. It is the most consumed meat in the world and is particularly popular across Asia. The industry is also facing a crisis as the African Swine Fever epidemic has decimated pork supplies around the world, killing nearly a quarter of all pigs globally since August 2018.
While the California-based company wasn’t motivated by African Swine Fever specifically when it started working on the product last year, it was motivated in part by health concerns with how animals are raised for food in general, said Celeste Holz-Schietinger, Impossible Food’s director of research.
The primary ingredients in the Impossible pork products are mostly the same as what’s in the Impossible Burgers — water, soy protein concentrate, coconut oil, sunflower oil and natural flavors. The differences between the ground Impossible Burger and Impossible Pork and Sausage product are all in the details, like how the sausage has a bit of springiness to and the pork is fatty.
“The first things you would notice is the release of juices, the juiciness in the mouth, the coating on the palate, followed by the flavor,” said Holz-Schietinger. “You’re going to taste the fat and the umami.”
The company chose to reveal the faux pork in an unusual place: CES 2020 in Las Vegas, the massive consumer electronics show more known for robots, televisions and internet-connected everything, from doorknobs to littler boxes. At a press event Monday at Kumi Restaurant in the Mandalay Bay hotel, Impossible Foods cooked up a number of Asian dishes using the ground pork at its launch, including bahn mi, char siu buns, and Impossible Pork Katsu. At its booth on the floor of the Las Vegas Convention Center, sandwiched between car tech companies, the company planned to hand out bahn mi samples to conference attendees.
It wasn’t the only food company at the show touting a replacement for traditional animal products. Eclipse Foods was at the event promoting its plant-based ice cream alternative. Dutch start-up Meatable had a booth at CES to show off the progress it has made turning pig stem cells into fat and muscle cells for edible products. If successful, the company could make actual meat without entire living animals. It says it will have a testable product by next year.
Impossible Foods is sticking with plant-based products, and is already working on other replacements for fish, chicken, cheese and milk, according to the company. It has said its primary motivation is to decrease meat’s impact on the environment, which is why it started with beef products, and eliminate animal farming all together by 2035.
Laura Reiley contributed to this report.