Impossible Foods vs Motif Foodworks: Another Lawsuit To Hit The Alt-Protein Industry As Competition Heats Up

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Impossible Foods and Motif Foodworks are the latest plant-based meat manufacturers to be meeting in court. The former has filed a lawsuit accusing Motif of IP infringement, connected to its patented ‘heme’ ingredient. Impossible is seeking damages and injunctive relief.

Impossible gained a patent for its heme ingredient in 2020. The soy leghemoglobin additive allows products to ‘bleed’, while increasing the meaty flavour. Impossible claims that this gives its products a unique selling point and has helped in carving out its niche in the alt-protein sector. The company has taken umbrage with Motif unveiling a similarly meaty addition, called ‘HEMAMI’. The case was filed on March 9 2022, with FoodNavigator-USA first to report this week.

Impossible Foods burger. Photo by Impossible Foods.

Impossible vs. Motif

Impossible claims that Motif is guilty of patent infringement. It acknowledges that Motif is not, currently, a CPG company, focusing instead on B2B supply, but that it has produced food items, including burgers, for demonstrations at trade shows. HEMAMI-flavoured burgers have been shown to be sold through Motif’s distribution partners, including Coolgreens. The company has previously claimed that this is the best way to showcase its technology and potential impact on consumer buying habits.

Motif has vigorously denied any wrongdoing and has vowed to fight the lawsuit, claiming that it is “not supported by facts or by the law and is nothing more than a baseless attempt by Impossible Foods to stifle competition, limit consumer choice and impede Motif, a new and innovative company with significant business momentum,” a company spokesperson told FoodNavigator-USA.

Heme vs. HEMAMI

Both Impossible and Motif claim to have developed an additive that creates a ‘meaty’ flavour. The two have approached the task with similar methodologies, but different protein sources.

Impossible uses soy leghemoglobin, a protein found attached to roots of specific plants, including soy. The resulting heme is made using GMO yeast, which has proven to be a stumbling block for the vegan burger pioneer when breaking into certain markets. When added to plant-based meat, heme emits a reddish-brown colour that changes as it is heated and imparts an iron-rich mouthfeel and flavour. It has received FDA GRAS certification in the U.S., and the approval sheet reads: “once cooked and digested, both soy leghemoglobin and animal-based myoglobin release identical heme B molecules into the digestive system.”

Motif’s HEMAMI is made from myoglobin, a protein found in bovine muscle tissue. It too uses GMO yeast strains to convert the protein into an additive for plant-based meats, to impart a richer and more realistic flavour. It has been explicit in identifying the differences in its approach to that of Impossible. “It’s a different protein,” Mike Leonard, CTO at Motif Foodworks told FoodNavigator-USA

Motif Foodworks burger. Phot by Motif Foodworks.

Food for thought

This is not the first lawsuit Impossible has been embroiled in. In November last year, it was reported that the food giant is suing a fitness firm in a trademark dispute. Impossible X, founded one year before Impossible Foods launched the first suit, with the latter firing back with a case of its own. The dispute rumbles on. 

Back in 2020, Impossible won a legal battle with Nestlé, forcing the global conglomerate to rename a product from its Garden Gourmet range. Later, in 2021, the alt-meat maker successfully defended its use of heme.

Elsewhere in the alt-protein sector, fungi-based startups Meati Foods and The Better Meat Co. are intensifying their courtroom drama. Here, the issue is centred around a former employee of Meati’s, who the company claims has stolen confidential IP and taken it to Better to create a competitive product. Two lawsuits are in progress, each party filing one against the other.


Lead photo composite genrated using product shots from Impossible Foods (L) and Motif Foodworks (R).

alternative proteinimpossible foodsmotif foodworks