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Why former Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario’s next act is plant-based meat

Marcario aims to help the Boulder, Colorado, plant-based meat startup be a responsible company that will play a part in revolutionizing the food system.

Why former Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario’s next act is plant-based meat
[Photo: Meati]
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Last June, Rose Marcario shocked many when she stepped down after six years as CEO of Patagonia. Her tenure there, 12 years in total, included improving its supply chains and streamlining production, developing new material technologies, expanding its Fair Trade certified standards, and investing in regenerative agriculture. She established the company’s sustainable food offshoot Patagonia Provisions, as well as Worn Wear, the company’s e-commerce market for used goods, focusing on reducing waste and extending the life of its gear. And in 2018, the innovative company launched Action Works, a digital platform that’s part social network, part recruiting tool aimed at connecting its customers with grassroots environmental organizations.

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Rose Marcario [Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images]
Since Marcario’s departure from Patagonia, many in the business world—particularly in the more socially conscious wing—have wondered: What’s next? Now we have the beginning of that answer, as last month, Marcario officially joined the board of the plant-based meat startup Meati.

“We all want to have a world where people feel good about the work they do every day, and they feel like they’re helping the planet and society instead of hurting it,” says Marcario. “I believe we can create an economy like that, and we should be working towards creating that economy. The food system is one of the most broken systems we have, so it feels like an important place to be and put my energy into.”

Started in 2014 by a group of University of Colorado doctoral students, Meati uses mycelium—the root-like part of mushrooms—to create fungi versions of steak and chicken breasts that look and taste like the real thing. CEO and cofounder Tyler Huggins says that landing Marcario on the company’s board is a dream come true, and that her work has long-been an inspiration. “As we developed this company, we always had Patagonia as our North Star, and the gold standard of what companies can be, and what they should be looking to the future,” says Huggins. “Not only in providing high-quality, uncompromising products, but also standing for something and trying to drive cultural change for the benefit of people and the environment.”

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In October 2020, Meati raised a $28 million Series A round led by Acre Venture Partners, including investments from former Annie’s CEO John Foraker (currently cofounder and CEO of the baby-food brand Once Upon A Farm), as well as two of the Sweetgreen cofounders, Nicolas Jammet and Jonathan Neman.

[Photo: Meati]
Marcario and Huggins were introduced by Foraker. Huggins then set up a personal tasting last year with Marcario at Chef Evan Funke’s Felix Trattoria in Los Angeles. After the four-course, socially-distanced Meati meal on the Felix patio, Marcario was sold. “It just totally blew me away,” she says. “I’ve looked at a lot of products, in my role helping to start Patagonia Provisions, and I know what’s out there, and this is something totally different.”

The value Marcario sees herself offering Meati is a balance between the practicalities of scaling production to meet demand, and working with governmental agencies and trade associations, but also in instilling confidence in their vision. “The position that I always felt was important with our food at Patagonia was to not compromise,” she says. “You see a lot of compromise in the current offering of food out there. GMO products, chemical fertilizers, chemical pesticides and herbicides. That to me is a huge compromise, and it’s not something I’d ever sign up for. I think being helpful to the team there, in terms of having them trust their instincts to create this product as responsibly as possible. Building a responsible (food) brand to the scale I did at Patagonia, that brings with it experience that I think will be valuable to Tyler and his team in Boulder.”

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[Photo: Meati]
Huggins says that having Marcario on the board will not only help them structure creating quality products in the right way within the company, but also to make them accountable to that ideal and those values. “One thing she’s helped us with already is to become a public benefit corp (B Corp), which means this philosophy and values are embedded into our corporate documents,” says Huggins. “So I think she’s a great guiding light, but also a voice within the company to hold us to these commitments.”

Marcario recently told The New York Times that she felt comfortable moving into the advisor and teacher phase of her life and career. Meati marks just her second board role, the other being with electric vehicle company Rivian. “I’m really excited about it,” says Marcario. “Tyler is very thoughtful entrepreneur and he’s approached this with a blank sheet of paper. I feel like, in this next decade and century, we need more entrepreneurs to say this old system doesn’t work, hasn’t served humanity or the planet, [so] let’s start with a blank sheet of paper and do it better. To make a better world.”

About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity.

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