The world’s second largest fast food chain is rolling out the Impossible Whopper nationwide at all of its 7,200 U.S. locations for the next month as it tests the potential demand for the meaty-tasting meatless patty.
Burger King first launched the Impossible Whopper at 59 restaurants in the St. Louis area on April Fool’s day. But the joke seems to be on the restaurant chain for not trying to make the nationwide rollout happen sooner.
Foot traffic to restaurants that sold the Impossible Whopper soared a whopping 18.5%, according to the market analysis firm, inMarket Insights. Over the same period, foot traffic to the company’s restaurants elsewhere in the U.S. declined 1.75%, according to the study, which analyzed location data of 50 million Comscore-verified users.
It’s been a busy week for Impossible Foods, which announced only yesterday that it had inked a partnership with a manufacturer to boost supplies of its heavily in-demand patties. The company also cleared the final regulatory hurdle it faced to bring its Impossible Burgers to grocery stores around the country. So just as Burger King wraps up its trial run, customers across the country will be able to find the patties on store shelves.
Burger King wasn’t the first chain to see the value in adding Impossible Burgers to the menu. Roughly a year ago, White Castle became the first major fast food chain to offer an Impossible Slider on its menu. The burgers can also be found at more upscale fast-casual restaurant chains like Bareburger, Applebee’s, Red Robin, and Five Napkin Burger joints.
While the other chains may have been first, the Burger King rollout is by far the largest.
“From the launch of our test in St. Louis, we knew that our guests really enjoyed the taste of the flame-grilled Impossible Whopper,” said Chris Finazzo, President, North America, Burger King Corporation, in a statement. “We’re now making the Impossible Whopper available for our guests across the country at an unbeatable price for a limited time only so visit one of our restaurants before they sell out.”
One day after the in-store launch, Burger King and DoorDash will offer an “Impossible Taste Test” where customers can order an Impossible Whopper and the original sandwich for $7. For orders of $10 or more, DoorDash will waive the delivery fee.
Suggested retail price for the Impossible Whopper is $5.59, which also puts the burger at a lower price point than many of the other fast food chains slinging Impossible products.
While the Impossible Whopper may be made entirely of plants, it’s not much healthier than eating a regular burger. The patties, made of water, soy protein, coconut oil, sunflower oil and leghemoglobin (that’s the company’s secret ingredient) aren’t designed to be healthier option than a burger — they’re just designed to be a more environmentally conscious replacement for beef.
Impossible Foods’ recent wins come as its chief rival, Beyond Meat, is raking in piles of cash as a publicly traded company and building up a sizable war chest to conduct research and development for new products.
Impossible Foods has raised nearly $700 million to date as a private company. Its backers include Khosla Ventures, Bill Gates, Google Ventures, Horizons Ventures, UBS, Viking Global Investors, Temasek, Sailing Capital and Open Philanthropy Project.
The company is targeting a September release of Impossible products to join its competitor Beyond Meat on grocery store shelves.
The news comes as the company said it inked a major supply agreement with the OSI Group, a food processing company, to increase the availability of its Impossible Burger.
Impossible Foods has been facing shortages of its product, which it can’t make fast enough to meet growing customer demand.
The supply constraints have been especially acute as the company inks more deals with fast food vendors like Burger King, White Castle and Qdoba to supply its Impossible protein patty and ground meal to a growing number of outlets.
Impossible Foods products are now served in more than 10,000 locations around the world.
Earlier this year, the company hired Dennis Woodside and Sheetal Shah to scale up its manufacturing operations and help manage its growth into international markets. The company began selling its product in Singapore earlier this summer.
May not only saw new executives joining the Impossible team, but a new capital infusion as well. Impossible Foods picked up $300 million in financing from investors, including Khosla Ventures, Bill Gates, Google Ventures, Horizons Ventures, UBS, Viking Global Investors, Temasek, Sailing Capital and Open Philanthropy Project.
With the new FDA approval, Impossible Foods will now be able to go head to head with its chief rival, Beyond Meat. The regulatory approval will also help to dispel questions that have swirled around the safety of its innovative soy leghemoglobin that have persisted since the company began its expansion across the U.S.
Last July, the company received a no-questions letter from the FDA, which confirmed that the company’s heme was safe to eat, according to a panel of food-safety experts.
The remaining obstacle for the company was whether or not the company’s “heme” could be considered a color additive. That approval — the use of heme as a color additive — is what the FDA announced today.
“We’ve been engaging with the FDA for half a decade to ensure that we are completely compliant with all food-safety regulations — for the Impossible Burger and for future products and sales channels,” said Impossible Foods Chief Legal Officer Dana Wagner. “We have deep respect for the FDA as champion of U.S. food safety, and we’ve always gone above and beyond to comply with every food-safety regulation and to provide maximum transparency about our ingredients so that our customers can have 100% confidence in our product.”
Imitation meat is poised to expand its presence in our diets exponentially, if the success of dueling faux burger companies Impossible and Beyond are any indication — but where’s the chicken? Planted is a brand new Swiss company that claims its ultra-simple meatless poultry is nearly indistinguishable from the real thing, better in other ways, and soon, cheaper.
Made from only pea protein, pea fiber, water, and sunflower oil, the company’s first product, which they call planted.chicken, imitates the texture and flavor (or lack thereof) of chicken meat very closely.
There are no exotic substances or techniques involved, which keeps production simple and vegans happy. It’s created by making a sort of fibrous dough using the ingredients mentioned, then using a carefully configured extrusion machine to essentially recreate the structure of the muscle fibers that make up meat. These are reassembled into larger pieces with a similar texture to a piece of chicken breast.
Of course it has different properties than real chicken — having no fat, collagen, or other complex animal substances, it won’t cook the same and can’t be simply substituted in any recipe. But for the innumerable dishes where something like a simple grilled and/or chopped chicken breast is called for, the Planted product could be a great fit.
Strangely enough, it all began with perhaps the most unpalatable substance conceivable (don’t worry, it doesn’t go in the food): hagfish slime. This strange substance secreted by the deep-dwelling creatures has interesting properties that attracted the attention of Lukas Böni and Erich Windhab in the food sciences labs of ETH Zurich.
“This amazing natural hydrogel and [Lukas’s] biomimetic approaches strongly contribute to our understanding of meat-like structures today and how they can be mimicked and eventually even improved from a biomaterials perspective,” said co-founder Christoph Jenny.
Böni soon connected with his other co-founders, Eric Stirnemann and Pascal Bieri, who shared an interest in reducing the waste and ecological costs associated with meat production. Though they are not opposed to meat-eating fundamentally, they deplore the enormous amounts of land required for it, unethical production methods, and other unhealthy byproducts of the industry. Their hope is to convince meat-eaters to choose less wasteful alternatives without asking them to compromise on the quality of the food.
Planted as a company was only started last week, though the team has been working for a year and a half on their first product. Böni brought the food science and biological materials knowledge, and Stirnemann is an expert in extrustion techniques; together they were able, after much experimentation, to produce a truly chicken-like substance.
From hagfish slime to chicken-like substance — it doesn’t really sound palatable. But leaving aside that little about food production is really table conversation, the proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the tasting, and tests along those lines have gone very well.
At tests in restaurants across Switzerland, reception has been great, with some consumers unable to tell it apart from the real thing. And this isn’t being substituted for ground chicken in a stew or something — it’s front and center.
“We put a lot of research into the product to make it extremely close to chicken,” said Jenny. “Hence we price around a premium chicken at this stage. We do see strong potential to produce our product at a lower cost mid-term, given strong economies of scale.”
Getting to that mid-term is the problem, of course, but given the frenzy of demand around fake meat and growing investment in alternative proteins, it probably won’t be hard to find investors. Though the company declined to detail its current funding, its FAQ says it is at the “seed stage” and although it is independent from ETHZ, it’s hard to imagine Planted will be leaving the nest without a bit of help from the university that spawned it.
Currently Planted’s chicken substitute is only available at a handful of restaurants while they work out the rest of the business and prepare to scale up. The company is planning on expanding its commercial presence next year, so until then keep an eye on the location list and drop by if you’re in Zurich or Bern.
While the company’s plant-based nuggets present a direct challenge to companies like Beyond Meat, Tyson Foods is playing a different game by introducing consumers to foods that are blended with meat and protein replacements.
So it’s not exactly a direct competitor to Beyond Meat, a former Tyson Foods venture portfolio investment, or Impossible Foods, which are the two current leaders in the growing alterna-beef category.
Rather, it seems to be an attempt to up-sell customers on products with less beef for potentially more money. Tyson did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.
For Springdale, Ark.-based Tyson Foods, making alternative proteins is less of an optional strategy and more of a necessary response to what could be an existential threat to the traditional meat market in the U.S. and around the world.
By 2040, traditional meat consumption could fall by 33%, according to a recent analysis by the consulting firm AT Kearny.
Chart courtesy of AT Kearny
“All in all, cultured meat and new meat replacement products are going to disrupt the $1,000 billion conventional meat industry with all its supplier companies,” the study’s authors write. “This disruption is supported by a general shift toward consumption of non-meat proteins (for example, legumes and nuts) as a consequence of new lifestyle trends, all aimed at a more sustainable and healthier diet, as well as regulatory measures against conventional meat.”
Tyson has launched its new brand with just these pressures in mind. The company is the first large meat producer to confront the changes that are coming to the market at anything approaching the scale of the challenge.
What remains to be seen is whether consumers will respond to the concept of a “blended” burger outside of the fast food restaurants where those kinds of products are already served. It’s trying with its premium sausage brand, Aidells, along with the Raised & Rooted patty, which is a blend of beef and vegetable proteins.
“Today’s consumers are seeking more protein options so we’re creating new products for the growing number of people open to flexible diets that include both meat and plant-based protein,” said Noel White, president and CEO of Tyson Foods, in a statement. “For us, this is about ‘and’ – not ‘or.’ We remain firmly committed to our growing traditional meat business and expect to be a market leader in alternative protein, which is experiencing double-digit growth and could someday be a billion-dollar business for our company.”
Tyson’s plant-based nuggets, made from a blend of pea protein isolate and other plant ingredients, will be on store shelves in the fall, as will the blended beef and vegetable burgers.
Tyson also has bets on other, novel meat replacements and alternative protein sources. The company has invested in lab-grown meat makers like Memphis Meats and Future Meat Technologies and is also backing Mycotechnology, a mushroom-based protein producer, through its venture capital arm, Tyson Ventures.
Investors in newly public Beyond Meat seem un-fazed by Tyson’s new offerings. The stock dipped on the news (and a downgrade from IPO underwriter J.P. Morgan), but it’s still up more than 100% on the year.
Our media columnist Eric Peckham talked to a variety of successful founders on how they generate FOMO (i.e. fear of missing out) among VCs during their fundraises. While having a great deck and story is key to startup success, clearly there is also a bit of the dark arts required to go from intro email to term sheet.
We focused on a two-week period and set all the meetings for Thursday and Friday. From 7am into the evening, back-to-back pitches at all the firms in one area then the next area. That’s because partner meetings are on Mondays, so the Thursday and Friday conversations would lead to pitching the whole partnership the following Monday. We had a 24-hour rule: if we didn’t hear back from a fund in 24 hours, we crossed them off the list.
According to this CEO, Sequoia and Benchmark are the best at throwing entrepreneurs off their process in order to get ahead of the competition. Sequoia will typically arrange meetings for the morning so they can invite you back for a second meeting with more partners that same afternoon; Benchmark’s partners are quick to travel to wherever you are in the world and sell you on working together (with a term sheet at the ready).
Our editor Jordan Crook did a great interview with J Crowley of Airbnb Lux and formerly of Foursquare, and the two of them discussed the opportunities and challenges of being a PM, how to deal with failure, and how to be a leader on a product team.
As Beyond Meat continues its reign as one of the kings of this year’s IPO mountain and Impossible Foods serves up impossibly good numbers for Burger King, venture capitalists seem ready to feast on new food deals.
And judging by market size and the returns that some companies have already realized by targeting the dairy aisle, the next big wave in food tech might just come with a whiff of Camembert. Meat alternatives and cultured meat may be grabbing headlines, but a wave of early-stage companies are looking at the dairy business for the next big thing.
There’s nothing cheesy about the size of the check that Danone wrote for WhiteWave Foods. That over $10 billion payout for WhiteWave’s dairy alternatives was one of the single biggest acquisitions in the new food space. And consumers spent a whopping $61.9 billion on cheese in 2018 — a number that’s expected to reach $99.4 billion by 2024, according to data just published by the research group, iMarc.
But before determining which venture capitalists are going to be moving the cheese (or cutting it), it’s worth examining what’s driving the latest food tech craze right now.
Investors have long been eyeing a slice of the food business for the simple reason that it, along with healthcare, is one of the largest industries in the world. U.S. consumers, businesses and government services will shovel $1.62 trillion down the giant gaping maw of food and beverage businesses — spending more in a year on food and drink than they will on either healthcare or personal insurance, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (as CNBC noted).