The fake burger war is coming to your grocery aisle.
Impossible Foods plans to expand distribution of its soy-based alternative meat into retail, starting with 27 Gelson's Market stores across Southern California September 20. The Impossible Burger, which until now was only available in restaurants, will be available in select grocers on the East Coast next week, but the company declined to provide further details about where. The brand aims to be in stores across all 50 states by mid-2020, according to a company spokesperson.
Although it may disappoint many eager consumers, the slow rollout is a direct response to what happened the last time Impossible had a major launch. In April, when the company began selling its plant-based patties at a small number of Burger King restaurants, Impossible grappled with a massive product shortage
that left thousands of restaurants across the country without the patties. For months, it was forced to play catch up just to keep up with demand. And while the company now says it has a handle on production, the experience served as a wake-up call and led to a revamp in business strategy, according to founder and CEO Pat Brown. Impossible's first retail product will be a 12 oz. package of its faux meat instead of pre-formed patties.
"There are tens of thousands of grocery stores that are interested in having our products in their shelves," Brown told Inc. in August. "We've been deliberate now, particularly with really big customers, to make sure that we don't make any commitments at a large scale until we are completely confident that we have it covered with our existing customers."
Brown said his company's sales in 2019 are going to be "six times, or maybe more" the sales last year, which were also around six times higher than the previous year. "When you are growing that steeply, the task of being able to predict the growth for demand is much higher stakes."
Interest in meat alternatives that mimic beef's taste and texture has exploded in 2019. Impossible and Beyond Meat, arguably its biggest and buzziest rival, sell their burgers at ubiquitous fast-food chains, including White Castle, Red Robin, Cheesecake Factory, Subway, Dunkin', and other restaurants. Beyond Meat went public in May in what has been considered one of the most successful IPOs of 2019 and projects its revenue will hit at least $240 million, triple that of its 2018 revenue.
The popularity of the plant-based burgers has also led to an onslaught of critics, both from inside the meat industry and outside of it, who argue that these vegetarian alternatives might not be as healthy as people think. An essay published in the Journal of American Medical Association
in August claims that while Impossible and Beyond's plant-based patties contain zero cholesterol and are lower in total and saturated fat than a beef burger patty, they are both higher in sodium. The researchers admit there are not enough independently funded studies that analyze their nutrition more fully.
For his part, Brown, who is also a vegan, considers his product to be healthier than eating red meat. "I don't think anyone that who has a sophisticated knowledge of nutrition would say plant-based alternative is unhealthy."
Whether or not plant-based alternatives will make a dent in the sales of meat remains to be seen. At the very least, giant food corporations seem to think it's possible, and they are taking every precaution. Former Beyond investor Tyson Foods, for instance, released a new line of products that include both a plant-based protein line and a mix of animal and plant-based burger meat. Others jumping into the fray include Nestlé, Perdue, and privately-owned supermarket chain Trader Joe's.