Chief Legal Officer of Impossible Foods Leads with Purpose
Photo by Alexander Sinn on Unsplash
Impossible Foods produces plant-based substitutes for meat products. It has a Chief Legal Officer who leads the company’s legal and compliance functions with purpose. The California company sells Impossible Burgers and other plant-based meats. It also is on a mission to reduce carbon emissions and create a cleaner environment.
Tech Background Provides Wagner with Valuable Experience
Dana Wagner is the Chief Legal Officer of Impossible Foods. He has career experience working in legal positions at large tech companies, and he leverages those experiences to help Impossible Foods grow. Wagner was previously the General Counsel of Square, the influential payments processing company founded by Jack Dorsey. Before that, Wagner led antitrust, competition, and consumer protection matters at Google.
While experience in the tech industry may not seem relevant, it has in fact provided some insightful lessons. Wagner’s experiences at Square and Google taught him to navigate the laws and regulations that impact consumer product markets. Further, like the fast-growing tech industry, the plant-based meats industry has skyrocketed in recent years. Wagner’s skill in adapting to changing trends carries over to his current role as Chief Legal Officer of Impossible Foods.
Impossible Foods vs. Beyond Meat
Impossible Foods’ main competitor is Beyond Meat. While both companies target health-conscious consumers or consumers who wish to reduce their environmental footprint, each company has unique attributes. Beyond Meat was founded in 2009. Impossible Foods was founded in 2011 by a Stanford biochemistry professor named Patrick O’Reilly Brown.
In terms of the products themselves, Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods use a different blend of plant proteins to create their meatless meats. Beyond Meat contains a mixture of peas, mung beans, rice proteins, and coconut oil. The main ingredients in Impossible Foods’ meats are soy, potato protein, and sunflower oil. Both companies price their meat products similarly. On average, plant-based meats are a bit pricier than animal-based meats.
Seeking a Career with Unique Challenges
Before he was hired in 2018, Wagner explored many different job opportunities. “I was looking at a lot of different options for a full-time role back in the Bay, and I was impressed by the mission of Impossible Foods and the team they had built,” Wagner stated. In contemplating his next career move, Wagner noted that he was especially interested in jobs with unique regulatory challenges or working at a mission-driven nonprofit.
Wagner is enthusiastic about being the Chief Legal Officer of a company that faces novel regulatory challenges, is growing rapidly, and has a sustainable mission. He replaced Myra Pasek, who headed the legal department of Impossible Foods for the previous five years.
In his current position, he frequently draws on the lessons learned from his last full-time role as General Counsel of Square. Wagner joined Square at a relatively early stage of the company’s growth and helped guide it through an initial public offering in 2015. In fact, Wagner was Square’s first ever General Counsel. He left the company in 2016 to devote more time to teaching, consulting, and other personal endeavors.
His guidance of Square through a few critical, high-growth years has given Wagner a toolkit to help Impossible Foods’ legal department. “I’ve seen companies go through this stage of growth before. I know as we continue to grow and succeed, we’ll hit some of the same issues, such as growing interaction with regulators,” Wagner commented. “Like Impossible Foods, Square was operating in a fairly regulated space and I know the dynamic with existing players in the industry.”
Past Experiences Help
In figuring out how to deal with regulators, Wagner also draws on earlier career experiences. Prior to serving as General Counsel of Square, Wagner worked in the legal department at Google for over four years. He was in charge of antitrust matters at Google and eventually become a legal director in 2011. Before that, Wagner was a trial attorney in the U.S. Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division. As Impossible Foods gains more market share and becomes a dominant industry player in the meat alternatives space, his antitrust knowledge will become increasingly useful.
Impossible Foods Plans for Expansion
Impossible Foods already appears in many grocery store aisles and on the restaurant menus of several prominent chains. Grocery stores such as Walmart, Target, Kroger, and Whole Foods sell the company’s products, which include plant-based patties, pork, sausages, and chicken nuggets. Restaurant chains including Burger King, Applebee’s, and numerous local restaurants also incorporate Impossible Meats into their menu offerings. Over 2,000 restaurants across the United States serve the Impossible Burger. To cater to vegetarian customers, Starbucks now offers the Impossible Breakfast Sandwich, which features a plant-based sausage patty.
International expansion is also picking up. Impossible Foods launched in Hong Kong, the company’s first market outside the United States, in 2018. It continues to gain market share as people around the world become increasingly interested in reducing their environmental footprint. The company claims that adjustments to diet can have a bigger impact in reducing greenhouse gas emissions than installing solar panels or using electric vehicles.