Your move, McDonald's.
— Erika Adams
It only took a month of market testing in St. Louis, Missouri, for Burger King to decide that the plant-based Impossible Whopper was ready for a larger stage. The fast food chain announced today that the Impossible Whopper would be launching in new markets soon, with a target of nationwide distribution by the end of the year.
The original test, launched in 58 restaurants in St. Louis on April 1, went “exceedingly well,” according to a company spokesperson. The initial social media campaign around the launch generated six billion media impressions for the brand, driving up customer awareness and subsequent sales of the vegan burger.
“Burger King restaurants in St Louis are showing encouraging results and Impossible Whopper sales are complementing traditional Whopper purchases,” the spokesperson said in an email.
In other words, the Impossible Whopper wasn’t eating up regular Whopper sales, and Burger King is tapping into a new potential customer base.
“Success is determined by incremental sandwiches sold in St Louis,” the spokesperson said. “As a result of the incremental sales, the brand was driven to quickly test in additional markets with the intention of nationwide distribution by end of year.”
A Natural Fit
Burger King’s parent company Restaurant Brands International CEO José Cil was quick to jump to the Impossible Whopper’s defense when analysts on the company’s first-quarter earnings call questioned why a vegan burger makes sense for Burger King’s core customer.
“We think it’s very much in line with our brand position,” Cil said. “I’ve tasted the product many times, in fact I’ve sometimes overused my executive privilege to have the Burger King chefs bring me the product into the office on occasion. It’s really difficult to distinguish between the Impossible Whopper and the original Whopper.”
The plant-based version of the Whopper has 15 percent less fat and 90 percent less cholesterol than its meaty alternative, according to the New York Times.
The company declined to specify when or which additional markets the Impossible Whopper would be landing in before the proposed nationwide rollout at the end of 2019, only that the expansion would be coming “in the very near future.”
Impossible Foods’ Growing Restaurant Base
This isn’t Burger King’s first vegan meat play in the U.S. (the chain already stocks veggie patties made by MorningStar). But Impossible Foods and its direct competitor Beyond Meat have flipped the script on what consumers expect from plant-based protein by marketing directly at meat eaters, and the food is performing extremely well at brands that have built their business on stacks of meat.
Aside from Burger King, Impossible Foods has also inked deals with White Castle, which carries an Impossible Slider in all 377 locations, and Red Robin, which put an Impossible Cheeseburger on the menu at all 570 locations at the beginning of April.
Burger King operates 7,330 restaurants in the U.S. as of December 31, 2018. If the burger chain hits its target of nationwide distribution by the end of this year, it will represent Impossible Foods’ largest restaurant distribution channel to date, by far.