Interview Impossible Foods: An interview with Rachel Soeharto, former Senior Communications Manager

  • Interview Impossible Foods An interview with Rachel Soeharto, former Senior Communications Manager (if_retail_instore.jpg)

Photo: Impossible Foods

In her role, she was responsible for consumer, retail and hospitality communications as well as the relationship and work with the culinary experts.

Her background is in hospitality and restaurant communications and the “Gastronomy First” approach of Impossible Foods was for her the reason to join the company. She just loves food storytelling. For the whitepaper “Gastronomy First” it was our pleasure to talk to Rachel and get the insights of Impossible Foods on their approach to the market.

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    Photo: Rachel Soeharto

Rachel, thanks a lot for taking the time today. Let me dive right into it. How and when did the idea come up to involve the gastronomy in your go-to market approach?

We first launched the Impossible Burger in the summer of 2016. Leading up to the market debut of the Impossible Burger we had been thinking about different market entry strategies. We started the process with our mission in mind to solve the global climate crisis by removing animal products as one of the top climate disaster contributors from the food value chain. Our aspiration is to replace them with no-compromise products that are just as delicious, nutritious and versatile, but have a less harmful impact on the environment. With both goals aligned we looked for a group of people who could a) tell that story and b) do it brilliantly in their own way. We had a lot of ideas but landed at working with chefs who have a vested interest, really have created their careers based on the fact that they love meat, love animal meat and they are very creative and very skilled at the culinary art of cooking meat. So, we put trust and faith in the chefs to help us tell the story from the very beginning.

Ok wow, so you have a lot of confidence in their work. What are the risks and benefits you see?

It’s an interesting model because we cannot dictate what comes out of the kitchen, whether it’s someone’s home or a restaurant. But we are targeting the first bite, the first moment you try it, because that first experience means the most. So, if you do not cook very often and you prepare an Impossible Burger for an already skeptical friend or family member, they may not have the best experience. But, if you get one from the kitchen of an amazing chef like David Chang or Chris Cosentino, your experience will be wonderful and memorable. Part of that was first launching the product in restaurants versus someone’s kitchen at home.

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    Photo: Impossible Foods

So, do you look for specific chefs?

Yes. At one point, we were talking to several chefs. We started with David Chang at Momofuku Nishi in New York and he was one of the first chefs to ever try the burger. He famously said in a New Yorker interview that he had previously wanted to remove all vegetarian dishes from the menu until he tried the Impossible Burger and thought it was so delicious that it reversed his stance on plant-based menu options. We also talked to some folks like Michael Simon and Chris Cosentino (The Meat Guy). These guys have tattoos of meat on their bodies and are really unapologetic meat loving chefs who love the taste of meat, cooking it, everything, and they were blown away by the Impossible Burger.

As meat lovers, how open were the chefs in the beginning?

These were chefs who loved the art and experience of cooking, as well as the discovery element behind sourcing new ingredients. So, Impossible Foods came along with this product that fuses new technology, food science, and ingredients that you could find in nature in a new way. It was the sensory experience of cooking it in the pan when you get the sizzle, caramelization, and meat smells that blew away chefs who had never seen plant-based meat that cooked quite like that.

From these guys, we have earned what we call “culinary credibility”, because the chefs truly enjoy the taste of our product and the whole experience. We see culinary credibility as being inclusive of any type of food experience, so we started with acclaimed chefs and then slowly moved into the food service side and then the home cook retail side.

You went further down the pyramid from independent to system gastronomy by going to White Castle, right?

Yes, exactly. Our first QSR (Quick Service Restaurant) was White Castle in 2018, which was the Impossible Slider. The following year, we launched nationally with Burger King as the Impossible Whopper. We wanted to grow the business and scale our production. Our overall goal even before we started working with chefs was to make the product available everywhere and make it ubiquitous. That’s why we entered retail at the end of 2019.

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    Photo: Impossible Foods

With the goal in mind to make the product ubiquitous, did you do the initial recipe development with chefs or was that done in the lab first?

We created the product first and made sure it was a product we felt comfortable sharing with top chefs. Once we had the initial product, we called it 1.0 to point it out, we gave the chefs the creative freedom to incorporate it into their menus however they wanted to. It was called Impossible Burger, but these chefs were doing amazing things like making Impossible tartare, Impossible egg rolls, Impossible meatballs… turning it into really amazing food, rather than just a standard burger.

Ah that’s great because it shows off the versatility of the product.

Yes, and as we expand globally, we want to make sure it is applicable to all global cuisines. In the U.S., burgers are huge, and we wanted to find something common that everyone loves. But as we get into new markets in Asia and Europe, we want to find new ways to showcase the cuisines of each region and make sure the product adapts to that.

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    Photo: Impossible Foods

You do a lot of research and new product development, right? Do you now have professional chefs in your R&D team?

It’s a bit of both. We have an in-house culinary team comprised of experienced chefs and folks on the recipe development and testing side. We also engage with external chefs like some of the early partners I mentioned, who are still involved in informal advisory roles because they know the brand. Additionally, we look for chefs from all kinds of countries and backgrounds, trying to involve them in the product development process.

When you promote a new product, what roles do the chefs play? Do you have an agreement with them as far as how many posts or events they need to contribute?

We work with so many different personalities and partners, and something I am working to lead is how we can bring in a broader group of chefs to work with. As it stands now, we work more with our chef partners from a recipe and content development standpoint. We actually came out with a cookbook last year and worked with a lot of our chef partners to formalize their best Impossible meat dishes. We wanted to give consumers a lot of choices around how they enjoyed Impossible Meat. That’s where their expertise is, so we wanted to make sure that shines through.

Find here more information about Impossible Foods.

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