Today the Washington Post announced that Burger King will start selling a new plant-based burger in Sweden starting tomorrow (Wednesday).
The piece described the new menu offering “a version of the Impossible Whopper”, which is made with the popular plant-based “bleeding” meat from Redwood City, Calif.-based startup Impossible Foods. In the U.S. Burger King began selling the popular plant-based patties in early April in St. Louis, then quickly announced it would make them available to all Burger Kings nationwide. Last week it began that expansion, with Columbus, GA, Montgomery, AL, and Miami, FL.
However, there’s a reason that Burger King’s new plant-based burger is only a version of the Impossible Whopper: heme. Yes, the same buzzed-about ingredient that makes Impossible’s burgers taste and bleed like meat is what’s standing in the way of into Europe.
Impossible’s heme is produced with genetically modified yeast. While the heme itself isn’t a genetically modified organism (GMO) per se, it’s still made through genetic modification — which means it would have to be approved for sale by the European Food Safety Authority. Even though the FDA has decreed that heme is generally recognized as safe, there’s no guarantee that European authorities would follow suit.
With Impossible out of the running, it’s not clear what the new plant-based Whopper in Sweden is made of. It might be a revamp of a classic bean burger, which the fast-food chain launched earlier this month in its Malta locations, or a garden patty, like the Morningside veggie burgers available in U.S. BK locations.
More likely it’ll be closer to Nestlé’s Incredible Burger — after all, the meat-like vegan burger, which is similar in looks to Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, is now on the menus of McDonald’s in Germany.
Instead of Europe, I’m guessing that Impossible Whopper’s global expansion will start in Asia. Impossible’s plant-based patties are already available in Hong Kong, Macau, and, as of a few months ago, Singapore. They’re not in Asian locations of Burger King yet, but clearly genetic modification isn’t as much of an issue there as it is in Europe.
Impossible Foods, however, is adamant that their choice to expand into Asia before other international regions has nothing to do with the genetic engineering issue. Rather, it’s a strategic choice in order to pack the biggest punch against the meat industry. “Asia accounts for more than 40% of the world’s total meat consumption,” a representative told us over email. Maybe an Impossible Whopper launch in Asia would help reduce that number.
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[Note: A previous version of this piece incorrectly assumed that the new plant-based burger in Sweden was indeed made with the Impossible burger.]