- Impossible Burger is moving into university and company cafeterias, as well as cultural venues, according to the company.
- The rollout started last week and is being coordinated with Bon Appétit Management Company, which runs more than 1,000 cafes for universities, corporations and museums in 33 states. It's also working with Restaurant Associates, which operates about 160 foodservice locations, including museums, performing arts centers, aquariums, corporate dining and educational facilities.
- Impossible Foods' restaurant customers have been seeing double-digit same-store sales growth, CFO David Lee told Bloomberg. The Impossible Burger is expected to be in retail outlets at prices competitive with commodity beef in the near future.
This is a significant development for Impossible Foods because foodservice represents about half of U.S. ground beef consumption, according to Bloomberg. An estimated 7.3 billion pounds of ground beef were purchased by foodservice operators and sold by stores in 2016. But for the plant-based burger company to attract and retain the average carnivore, the product has to look, smell and taste like the real deal.
"For us to have the impact, we have to appeal to meat consumers — and that's been the target from day one," Nick Halla, chief strategy officer of Impossible Foods, told Food Dive. "The connection of people and where their meat comes from I think will change over time. Right now, people aren't really tied to their meat coming from an animal — they just want it to taste good."
Impossible Foods' outreach strategy differs from its main competitor — Beyond Meat of El Segundo, California — whose Beyond Burger is available at hundreds of Whole Foods and Safeway retail locations. It's also in the process of being distributed to Kroger's outlets — its namesake stores, Fred Meyer, King Soopers and Ralphs.
Beyond Meat is working the foodservice advantage by recently partnering with Sysco to add the Beyond Burger to a program designed to spotlight and offer new products to customers based on emerging food trends.
It's not easy to replicate animal protein with plant-sourced materials, but somehow the Impossible Burger won over many skeptics when its "beef" patty debuted in some U.S. markets last year. The company spent a lot of time and money telling — and showing — how the product mimics a real beef hamburger patty down to the last detail, including "bleeding" while it cooks.
Since then, the Impossible Burger has become available at a growing number of upscale restaurants around the country, and the company intends to expand into the retail marketplace over the next few years as it creates greater manufacturing efficiencies. It has a new plant in Oakland, California, where it can produce one million pounds of its plant-based burger patties every month.
Beyond Meat has its admirers with deep pockets, among them actor Leonardo DiCaprio, Humane Society of the United States, General Mills and Tyson Foods, which acquired a 5% stake in the company last fall. The plant-based meat producer is hopeful to someday expand the partnership with Tyson beyond an investment, and the company remains optimistic it can tap into the meat giant's extensive distribution network to get its plant-based product into more stores and restaurants.
Tyson remains pleased with its investment in Beyond Meat, though CEO Tom Hayes declined to say recently whether it has considered increasing its stake. “We like what they’re doing," he told Food Dive. "We have a great relationship with the management steam, so we’ll continue to stay an investor."
These two plant-based burger startups have been successful by using different marketing strategies and distribution channels to get where they are today. Both have enjoyed consumer acceptance and continue to innovate with new partnerships and products in an increasingly welcoming environment. With the most recent figures showing the plant-based meat market up 6% this year compared to 2016 and refrigerated plant-based meat products are up 20% over last year, the future for this sector looks strong.
The trick is whether Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods will be able to convince enough meat eaters to ditch their favorite burger for one made from plants.