Retail

Burger King’s Impossible Whopper Cools Off — What’s Next?

Burger King Impossible Whopper sign

One moment you’re hot.

Fortunes turn and then you are cold.

So it goes in life, business and the world of plant-based, vegetarian-friendly fast food.

The Impossible Whopper is cooling off when it comes to consumer interest, at least according to the latest signs about the Burger King vegetarian burger product. According to a report this week (Jan. 22) from Bloomberg, the fast food chain is “cutting the price of its faux-meat burger as sales start to dip following last year’s introduction.”

The report got more specific by looking at the situation via the chain’s largest U.S. franchise operator, Carrols Restaurant Group. “[It] said sales tapered off to about 28 Impossible Whoppers daily per store — down from 32 previously. The company, which has more than 1,000 Burger King locations, said sales appear to be stabilizing at that level. The sandwich was recently added to the chain’s two-for-$6 discount menu on a temporary basis. That compares to the previous suggested price of $5.59 per sandwich.”

Grocery Changes

Even so, Burger King reportedly remains committed to the product and even plans menu expansions and upcoming promotions.

Whether the Impossible Whopper is more fad than anything else remains an open question. But there seems little doubt that consumers, especially younger ones, are committed to a healthier lifestyles that includes fitness and more fresh food — including via vending machines, it turns out, part of the ongoing revolution in unattended retail.

Late last year, for instance, the Impossible Burger made its grocery-store debut. That rollout positions Impossible Foods into an even closer rivalry with Beyond Meat. At the time it announced its newest burger in June, Beyond Meat said it was available to buy in stores with the inclusion of Kroger, Whole Foods, Publix, Safeway, Wegmans, Sprouts and Target. The outlet notes that the Impossible Burger is “is lagging behind in selling its burgers directly to home cooks” in comparison to that list of stores.

Before that move, Impossible Foods had sold its burgers only to restaurants, as had Beyond Meat. These days, Impossible Burger reportedly is sold in more than 17,000 eateries and more than 7,000 Burger King fast-food locations. Beyond Meat provides meatballs to Subway and veggie burgers to Carl’s Jr., among other products.

Bigger Trends

A broader look the issue of healthy food finds that up-to-date retail and online technologies are helping to get those options onto the plates of more consumers — and not just via fast-food chains. Consider as one example the ongoing effort to eliminate so-called food deserts. As you likely can imagine, the combination of low population density and poverty in many areas, both urban and rural, dampens the construction of large-scale supermarkets. In turn, that drives consumers toward higher cost, lower nutrition options that are more accessible, including from convenience stores.

Those trends inspired former hedge fund manager Sam Polk to start Everytable in 2016. “In my opinion healthy food is a human right, and shouldn’t be a luxury product,” Polk said in an interview, noting that the costs of poor nutrition are incredibly serious and have costs for all of society. People deserve better than eating “basically toxic fast or heavily processed foods,” he said, and it is incumbent on businesses to find a way to profitably deliver that. And with two adjustments to the standard business model, Everytable believes that its health-focused fast casual offerings have found the way.

The first innovation involves a hub-and-spoke model the firm uses for food preparation. For every region it serves, Everytable builds a single, central kitchen that services all of its restaurants within that region. Dynamic pricing also comes into play. Food pricing is set according to the neighborhood each store location is in, rather than the goods it sells. A meal in an upscale area might cost $7 to $8 apiece, while the same meal in a nearly low-income area might cost $5  to $6 each.

These innovations are playing around with classic supply-and-demand issue, and the jury’s still out about whether they will succeed. Nor is it yet clear if and how Burger King might bounce back, so to speak, with its effort to bring vegetarian burgers to the masses. But the experimentation will surely continue and more consumers shift away from their old-fashioned and often unhealthy diets.

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