Today fast-casual burger chain Red Robin announced it will be offering plant-based Impossible burgers at all 570 of its U.S. locations starting April 1.
In and of itself, this isn’t huge news. Impossible is already in over 5,000 restaurant locations, ranging from high-end spots like Momofuku to the White Castle fast-food chain. But in light of the Redwood City-based startup’s impending move to retail shelves, it begs the question: will Impossible’s hefty restaurant presence translate to brand recognition in the grocery aisle?
Impossible’s key retail competitor is Beyond Meat, whose plant-based burger patties have been a mainstay in grocery stores since they launched in Whole Foods in 2013. Beyond Meat is in even more restaurant locations than Impossible: almost 11,000 in total. Just this week Del Taco, with whom Beyond had been doing a pilot program, decided to offer the plant-based meat as a taco option in all of their 594 U.S. stores. And back in January Beyond slid onto the menu at over 1,000 locations of the fast-food join Carl’s Jr.
At the end of the day, I don’t think any of Impossible’s recent restaurant expansions will give it a leg up on Beyond in the grocery aisle. Instead, the real differentiators will be selection, taste, and pricing.
Beyond has the upper hand when it comes to variety: in addition to their patties, they also offer plant-based sausages, crumbles, chicken strips, and will soon come out with a ground beef-like product as well as breakfast patties. Impossible hasn’t officially stated what meaty product it will launch at retail, but it’ll likely either be patties or a ground beef replacement.
Taste-wise, both Beyond and Impossible have unveiled 2.0 versions of their signature meatless burgers in 2019. We liked Beyond’s, but Impossible’s blew us away when we sampled it at CES.
The biggest question mark is pricing. Since Impossible and Beyond are both pretty darn good, I imagine many shoppers (myself included) will reach for the option that’s easier on their wallet. Impossible also hasn’t released any pricing information yet, but if they’re smart, they’ll undercut Beyond — which, at $5.99 for two patties, isn’t super cheap.
Taking a macro view, there’s plenty of room for multiple meat-like meat alternatives to be successful in the grocery aisle. The demand is plant-based meats is certainly there: a new study from Dupont Nutrition and Health indicates a growing consumer interest towards meat alternatives, with more than half of Americans increasing their plant-based food intake.
At CES this year Impossible Foods’ CEO Pat Brown also downplayed the competition between meat alternative companies. “If other people are making great [plant-based] products — and this is not B.S. — we love it,” he said.
Of course, competition is competition. People likely won’t be tossing both Beyond and Impossible burgers into their grocery carts. But if plant-based meat sales continue to soar — and I bet they will — I think that more high-end meat alternatives in the grocery aisles will equate to more sales for all involved.