Both of my parents were professors, and my wife of ten years does professional development training, so I have developed a very strong appreciation for power of good teaching. Perhaps because I’ve been surrounded by educators my first reaction after being let down by the Impossible burger wasn’t a problem with the product, but it was assuming there was a problem in the way people were taught to cook it.
After years of anticipation to try the meatless burger that “bleeds,” I was extremely disappointed with my first Impossible experience. The problem, in my case, was that the burger was overdone to the point where it didn’t really have a taste. The outside was was a hard shell with a crunch that overrode the rest of the patty. While the inside did have a meat-like texture, it was grey and didn’t “bleed” at all.
And I’m not alone in this. My colleagues Mike and Catherine tried the Impossible burger at a different restaurant, and theirs was overcooked as well. The folks at Ars Technica had mixed experiences, but they too noticed the crust and the dryness of the burger.
As Impossible Burger scales its availability–it’s now available in more than 1,000 restaurants across the U.S. and Hong Kong–how is the company scaling its operations to make sure those burgers are cooked properly?
I talked with the restaurant that served me my Impossible burger and they said that they bought it through a third party food provider who did provide a day of in-person training on how to cook and how to talk about it. The manager at this restaurant said that Impossible burgers cook in about half the time of meat patties, and that my Impossible burger should have been pink in the middle. They went on to say that training one cook doesn’t mean that person trains everyone else in the kitchen properly.
This isn’t just about customer complaints. The question of training is important for two reasons. First, Impossible is among the first wave of companies making meat-like veggie patties at scale. This will be the first experience many customers have with meat-like plant based burgers. If customers are turned off by a bad experience, you reduce the likelihood that they will try another one or adopt it into an ongoing diet (and reducing meat consumption has many benefits for the planet.)
Second, Impossible, which has raised $387.5 million in funding, is essentially handing over the customer experience to a third party that sells lots of items, and may not care. A consumer can have a good experience at a restaurant even though they have a bad meal. If a customer doesn’t like the Impossible Burger, so what? As long as they come back, they can order something else, and the restaurant still makes its money.
This is in contrast to the Beyond Meat burger that I loved, and whose go-to market strategy is to be in the supermarket aisles. Though I felt like I may have overcooked my first Beyond Burgers, I realized that was my fault, and knew how to correct it. So a less-than-perfect first try didn’t stop me from running to the store to buy more.
But I’m less likely to buy another Impossible burger, because I’m counting on the person behind the counter to get it right. I’m hesitant to say that Impossible should follow Apple and build it’s own restaurants–that would be expensive and distract from the company’s core mission–but it would ensure quality and better curate the first time experience with the product.
I reached out to Impossible to find out more about its training procedures, and didn’t hear back in time for publication. If they get back to me, I will update this post.
For now though, the possibility of my ordering another Impossible burger does not look great.