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Hey guys. We may not be having record-breaking heat levels in Seattle, but as we wade into the depths of summer it still seems harder and harder to do anything that’s not jumping in a lake.
One group that doesn’t have the luxury of summer chilling is Impossible Foods. Fresh off of a headline-grabbing four-month shortage, this week the plant-based meat company announced that it had partnered with one of the world’s largest food manufacturers, the OSI Group, in order to increase its production capacity.
Impossible is going to need all the help it can get. Just yesterday it officially announced that it will launch its plant-based meat in retail this September. That means the company has two months maximum before it needs to be prepared to supply not its growing list of restaurant partners — including fast-food behemoths like Burger King, which is rolling out the Impossible Whopper nationwide on August 8 — but also grocery stores. Hopefully Impossible’s shortage really is donezo, because otherwise they could get some serious backlash when shoppers find an empty retail shelf where they were expecting some Impossible “meat.”
Wait, Impossible is going to retail?
Yes it is! We may now know that Impossible will hit grocery shelves in September, but there are still a lot of question marks.
What will its first product be?
A safe bet here would be burgers, as that’s the vast majority of what Impossible sells now to its restaurant partners and the first product that most people associate with its brand. However, since the launch of its new recipe 2.0 back in January, the company has been working to emphasize the versatility of its “bleeding” meatless meat.
Over the past year they have begun to branch out beyond burgers with some of their restaurant partners. At Qdoba, Impossible plant-based protein is turned into seasoned taco “beef,” and at Little Caesar’s, it’s a sausage-like topping for pizza (extra interesting, since that iteration skews more towards pork than beef). Just a few days ago it appeared on Wow Bao’s menu in the form of a spicy Mongolian bao bun.
Maybe instead of a pre-formed patty we’ll see something more ground meat-like, sort of like Beyond Beef? It seems less likely, but they could also to differentiate themselves and offer products that Beyond doesn’t already sell in retail, such as ground pork or breakfast sausage.
How much will it cost?
Obviously Impossible will need to price its product competitively with Beyond Meat. Because the two products are so similar — many people I talk to about them refer to them interchangeably — even a minimal price difference could push someone to put an Impossible product in their cart instead of Beyond.
What’s less clear is if Impossible will be able to hit that competitive price point. Unlike Beyond, its plant-based meat contains heme, which it makes from genetically engineered yeast. I’m not sure how expensive that process is, but it’s one step that Beyond doesn’t have to deal with. Then again, Impossible has been able to sell its products at a pretty competitive price through its fast-food partners (it’s only $1 more than the meat options at both Burger King and White Castle), so clearly they’re able to get their costs down at least relatively low.
Where will it launch?
We don’t yet know which retail partners Impossible will launch with, or how many stores.
But one thing that does seem clear is that Impossible has learned an important lesson from its recent product shortage. In the past, it has been burned by growing too big too quickly. The company is already hedging its bets with the nationwide Burger King launch, stating that Impossible Whoppers will only be available “while supplies last.” It’s likely that they’ll roll out slowly in grocery stores to avoid the embarrassment of another shortage, especially so soon after their last one.
Impossible heading into retail is a big deal not only for the company but for plant-based meat in general. Now consumers who want to try out meatless meat will have more than just one option in the grocery store.
Sure, there are other plant-based meat products sold on store shelves, but Beyond is unquestionably the leader in fake meat retail right now. It also has the first-mover advantage. All of which is to say that Impossible will have to keep hustling on marketing, production, and product innovation to make it stand out in the grocery aisle. Looks like the company won’t be able to chill for a long time.
It’s all a process
Speaking of Beyond Meat, the company’s post-IPO honeymoon might be coming to an end. Beyond’s share prices dropped significantly this week, and they’ve also been fielding some critiques regarding their heavy processing methods and long ingredient lists. Even Chipotle threw them some shade.
During their Q2 earnings call this week, Beyond’s CEO Ethan Brown directly addressed concerns by stating that their company’s production methods are admittedly complex, but no more so than those used by a cow to turn plants into muscle.
“When it comes to meat, it’s not a question of processed or not no matter which process they prefer,” he said, referring to making meat from plants and from animals.
That’s an interesting way to look at it. After all, the process of animals digesting plants and turn them into meat is definitely complex — far beyond the scope of my 11th-grade bio abilities. By comparison, extracting protein from peas and beans, adding vitamins and extruding them a machine seems, well, simple.
However, compare Beyond Meat to other veggie burgers — the kind many flexitarians now turn their nose up at — and the processing critiques hold a lot more water. A black bean burger may not be as “sexy” as a burger that turns plants into a pretty damn good simulacrum of meat. However, you also know exactly what’s going into it (mostly beans), and have a pretty good idea of how those ingredients were prepared and assembled (cooked, mashed, shaped, frozen). Both options are still made by machines, so in the end they’re both probably processed a similar amount.
But while people have a pretty good idea about how companies turn beans into burgers, most of us can’t say the same about Beyond, Impossible, and the like. Though I guess we could take Brown up on his offer and visit the Missouri production facility to find out.
Protein ’round the web
- Fast-casual Asian restaurant Wow Bao is launching a meatless bao bun made with Impossible Foods “meat” on August 5th.
- In Canada, fast-food chain Tim Horton’s is testing out JUST’s plant-based egg. Might there be Beyond/JUST breakfast sandwiches in our future?
- U.K. company Meatless Farms, which makes plant-based burgers, sausages, and more, will launch in Whole Foods next week.