Interview with Laurent Stevenart, Country Manager in Singapore for Impossible Foods.
The Sceptics and the Unaware.
“If you are not getting push-back you are not pushing yourself.”
Those are the words from Laurent Stevenart.
Laurent knows one or two things about push-back. He is Country Manager in Singapore for Impossible Foods, a company that was founded with the goal to “drastically reduce humanity’s destructive impact on the global environment by completely replacing the use of animals as a food production technology”. Or in other words: They want to eliminate animal flesh as a source of food.
If you set out to disrupt the global meat industry you are bound to get some push-back, and Impossible Foods is getting push-back from everything from live-stock farmers to conservative meat lovers.
And Laurent loves it. He actually thrives on the energy that he gets from the Sceptics. I have chosen to capitalize the “S” in Sceptics because after listening to Laurent I am convinced that the people who do not (yet) believe in your products are as important for your success than the people who do.
The Sceptics are called Sceptics for a reason, they are sceptical about what you are doing. They doubt you will be able to do what you say you will be doing.. To “doubt” means to have a different mind. (The word “doubt” comes from the Latin word for “duo” meaning “two” as in “of two minds”. In Old English the word “two” actually meant “to doubt”.) So people who doubt, figuratively speaking, have two minds. They might, for example, see the value of plant-based meat from an environmental perspective, but at the same time think that plant-based meat is not the same culinary experience as “animal meat”. In the case of Impossible meat they are often sceptical to the idea that plant-based meat can taste as good as it does.
So Laurent actually spends as much as about 25% of his time on the Sceptics, trying to figure out why they are not getting on-board plant-based meat, what rhetorical arguments they are using to convince themselves not to switch, where they get their facts and information. Trying to understand the emotions that drive them not to convert.
He has understood that you will not be able to change the people who do not want to change, unless you understand how they think differently from you.
But as valuable as the Sceptics are Laurent spends even more time on the Unaware. The Unaware are the people who still do not know about, or have not yet tried eating a dish made with, plant-based meat. Laurent estimates that he spends up to 50% of his time on the Unaware. Getting them to know about the brand, and crucially, to try it. He knows that the proof is in the pudding – or as Laurent would most likely put it: “That the proof is in the meat.”
Getting people to actually try Impossible is oftentimes the best way to convince them that the product is a great substitute for animal based beef.
Laurent estimates that up to 50% of the population in Singapore still falls into the category of “the Unaware” – meaning they have still not tried an Impossible product. Most business people do not have to deal with such a high percentage of “Sceptics” and “Unaware” – and that’s what makes it so interesting to learn from Laurent and from Impossible Foods. Someone selling, for example, shampoo, does not have to deal with a vocal group of people being against shampoo, or with educating 50% of the market of the benefits of pouring a liquid into your hair to make it cleaner.
Laurent’s previous job was with Deliveroo where he, again, had to deal with a lot of both Sceptics and Unaware who just could not understand why anyone would order restaurant meals to their home.
At first glance it might sound difficult to have Sceptics and Unaware to deal with, but Laurent thrives on it. He knows that Impossible Foods is on a mission to disrupt the way humans eat and he clarified to me: “When you are a disruptor, people will challenge you, and many times people will not agree with what you are doing. That is the nature of a disruptor.”
And disrupting they are. For example: Compared to beef from cows, Impossible has a tiny carbon footprint: 87% less water, 89% less emissions, 96% less land. The company is trying to get the meat lovers to give up the meat they love for a plant based alternative so that human food production can become more, well humane, and do it in a way that doesn’t make the end consumer feel that they really had to change any of their habits. A huge challenge, of course. But not impossible.
In a home usage study of 254 U.S. consumers who cooked with Impossible Beef, at least 70% thought it sizzled and tasted like ground beef from cows.
I asked Laurent how he “converts” the Sceptics and makes the Unaware aware.
In the case of Impossible time and time again it comes down to making the people try the product, or at Laurent emphasised to me: “You are not a believer until you have tasted it.” They do roadshows, taste samplings in grocery stores, campaigns with restaurants and many other activities to get the unaware to try it out.
You could argue that Impossible made it harder for themselves by going after the meat eaters. After all: Vegetarians are already convinced about the benefits of plant-based food, so why not just try to get them to switch to Impossible?
But Impossible is not about easy. They are about change. Big change. Big environmental change. Big sustainable change.
Laurent explodes in a broad smile: “Going to work knowing that we have all these people out there that we will need to convince is what excites me! People challenge me, and I love it!”
I found his attitude so refreshing so I decided to challenge him with a question: “Would you go so far as to say that if no-body is challenged by what you do you are doing something wrong?”
His answer surprised me, he said: “No.”
But then he added: “No, but if no-one is challenged by what you are doing, I will say that you are not being impactful enough!”
And I think he is so right. If no-one is challenged by what you are doing you are either doing something totally predictable, something utterly uncontroversial and safe, or – worse – something that no-one cares about enough to even pay attention to.
The more you stand out, the more people will doubt. History is full of people with ideas that made the majority uncomfortable, angry, irritated or doubtful. Sometimes those people were crazy, and the upset majority were proven right. But many times, the people with the unconventional ideas were the winners. The ones that challenged the Staus Quo. The ones who changed the world.
Just like how Impossible is changing how humanity is thinking about meat. The idea of getting people to change from animal meat to plant-based meat might have sounded ridiculous just ten years ago (when Impossible Food was founded) or even less than 5 years ago (when Impossible Burger was launched) but today, 2021, Impossible’s meat is now available in over 30,000 (!) restaurants across the USA, Canada, Singapore, Hong Kong and Macau, as well as in 15,000 grocery stores. In the USA, you can even buy it at Burger King and Starbucks. From a crazy idea to mainstream, in just a few years. By not focusing on the easy ideas – but to focus on the challenging ideas that challenge convention – and change the world.
Take a step back and look at what you are doing. Do you have a huge amount of Unware to educate? Is what you are trying to do creating Sceptitics and Doubters? Are those very Sceptics and Doubters pushing against what you are doing, and if so, is that making you push yourself harder? If not, what could you do to make them push you harder?
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