Burger King will make good on its plant-based sandwich promise sooner than the chain initially projected. As of Aug. 8, the Impossible Whopper—with its truth-in-advertising slogan: 100% Whopper, 0% beef—will be available at 7,000-plus outlets in the U.S.
The move adds another layer of sizzle to an already smoking hot summer, as plant-based startups battle for their share of high-traffic restaurants, media coverage and consumer appetites.
Burger King’s national rollout, a first of its kind for fast food restaurants and earlier than the expected year-end coast-to-coast debut, comes on the heels of an Impossible Foods alliance with OSI Group, one of the largest food manufacturers in the world. That deal will step up production of the meatless burger, which had been in short supply during some peak demand periods this year. It’s currently selling at White Castle, Qdoba, Red Robin, Cheesecake Factory, Umami Burger and other venues.
Chris Finazzo, president of BK North America, said the chain has been encouraged by early results from Impossible Whopper sales and has had time to prep its locations for an anticipated increase in business.
“It’s important for us to be first to market, and we’re big believers in the plant-based category,” Finazzo said. “People who love Impossible are fanatical about it, and they haven’t been able to get it (widely).”
The Impossible Whopper will be available for a limited time, while supplies last, exec said, via stores, the BK app and DoorDash. (The sandwich is dressed exactly like the beef version, with tomatoes, onions, lettuce, mayo, ketchup and pickles on the well-known sesame seed bun, and costs about $5.50). If it’s a country-wide hit, it could become a permanent menu item, per Finazzo.
Impossible execs said the national launch aims to take the burger beyond its perceived fringe foodie territory and into the mainstream.
“It’s the Whopper—it just lets you put whatever protein you want on it,” said Heather Huestis, Impossible Foods’ managing director. “It’s a big, juicy burger, and it’s not a concession in any way. It’s about decadence.”
The meatless burger tested first in 59 locations in the St. Louis area, announced with an April Fools’ Day stunt. The chain premiered a digital video with testimonials from customers who tasted the Impossible Whopper without knowing it was beef-free and couldn’t tell the difference.
The sampling then spread to six other markets, including the San Francisco area where Impossible Foods is based.
Fans have been looking for the Impossible Whopper, scanning social media for places to buy it, according to BK, which pulled another stunt, decorating an existing BK to look like an Impossible restaurant and inviting consumers to its “grand opening.”
With fans assembled outside the “Impossible Restaurant” in New York City, BK revealed its own logo and shared the news of the Impossible Whopper premiere date.
In related promos, consumers can get a buy-one-get-one offer through the app. (For $7, they can do a side-by-side taste test of the meatless and the beef versions from Aug. 8 to Sept. 5). DoorDash is waiving its delivery fee for Impossible Whoppers through Sept. 1.
Impossible, using the tech platform of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January, introduced its 2.0 burger, dubbed “the company’s first significant product upgrade.” With tweaked ingredients and improved meat-like taste, “sales have surged,” according to the brand, founded in 2011 by former pediatrician and Stanford biochemistry professor Patrick Brown.
Impossible Foods, which counts Bill Gates, Serena Williams and Katy Perry as investors, had already doubled the head count at its Oakland manufacturing plant, tripling weekly production this spring ahead of the OSI arrangement. The startup is positioning itself for future growth, as the privately held, Illinois-based OSI has 65 facilities in 17 countries. (Asia is a hot market for the product, execs said).
Top competitor Beyond Meat, with a valuation of $12 billion since its spring IPO, has added Dunkin to its roster recently, as the two companies continue to jockey for space in the fast food category. It’s available also at chains like Tim Hortons and A&W in Canada, Del Taco, TGI Friday’s, Applebee’s and Carl’s Jr. in the U.S.