As a scientist, Celeste Holz-Schietinger can easily do the math on meat: A growing global population plus an inability for livestock producers to keep up with demand plus concern over the environment equals a looming food crisis. Her solution? Plant-based alternatives. And it seems that consumers agree, with the burgeoning global faux meat market expected to nearly triple by 2027 to hit US$14.9 billion.
At Impossible Foods, it’s Holz-Schietinger’s job to help satisfy that growing appetite. She oversees product innovation and flavor discovery within a 150-person team that invents, designs and creates the next generation of tasty lab-inspired proteins that—to the delight of vegans and environmentalists everywhere—remove cows and pigs from the equation.
Holz-Schietinger has summed up her purpose as “protecting and providing ways for humans to live more sustainably.” A career that began as a biochemist researching DNA mutations in leukemia patients changed directions in 2012, shortly after Holz-Schietinger completed her doctorate. That’s when she joined the then-1-year-old fledgling startup Impossible Foods as principal scientist.
Holz-Schietinger and her team introduced the Impossible Burger in 2016 and followed up three years later with the Impossible Burger 2.0, deconstructing the original patty until they found a formula that achieved better grilling. To replicate a meaty flavor, they turned to an unexpected ingredient: a plant-based version of leghemoglobin, or heme, the molecule found in blood that contains iron. The Impossible Foods team genetically engineered yeast so it can make leghemoglobin.
And that was just the start. Her team unveiled Impossible Sausage last year, and a project to develop Impossible Pork is in the works. She has applied for more than 30 patents, and Impossible Foods is now preparing to go public with a stock offering that could value the company at around US$10 billion.
Some health advocates have a bone to pick with Impossible Foods, knocking the products for being genetically modified and processed. But Holz-Schietinger remains committed to delivering on the company’s promise: to scale production of nutrient-rich plant-based meat that can help feed the world.
“At Impossible Foods, I get to bring together my life purpose with my passion for understanding how things work and my love of food—to create foods that are delicious,” she says.