Independent restaurants feel the squeeze of an Impossible Burger shortage

The meatless burgers have been a consumer hit for many, so much so that the company can’t keep up with demand.
Photograph: Shutterstock

Housemade veggie burgers used to make up just 1% of sales at Brgrbelly, an independent fast-casual restaurant on Chicago’s Northwest side. About six months ago, though, the restaurant swapped out its veggie burger for an Impossible Burger patty.

With the Impossible Burger’s introduction, meatless burger sales at Brgrbelly skyrocketed, accounting for about 5% of the restaurant’s total sales, owner Steve O’Brien told Restaurant Business.

“I can’t overemphasize,” O’Brien said. “It was a huge success. I don’t know if omnivores are switching, but we’re getting more vegetarian customers because we’re serving the right product.”

But that sales boost is now in jeopardy, due to a shortage of Impossible Burgers nationwide at regional chains and independents. Impossible Foods, the company that manufactures the plant-based meat analogue, now supplies large brands such as White Castle, Red Robin and, most recently, Burger King, where the Impossible Whopper is set to roll out at 7,200 units by the end of the year.

“We are urging consumers to call restaurants in advance to ensure that they still have Impossible Burger in stock, and to inquire when new shipments are expected to arrive,” an Impossible Burger representative said in a statement to RB. “Impossible Foods recognizes the inconvenience that scarcity causes and sincerely apologizes to all customers, particularly those who have come to depend on the additional foot traffic and revenue that the Impossible Burger has generated.”

Earlier this week, Brgrbelly posted a message to its “vegetarian/vegan/meatless/eating-less meat” customers on Facebook, saying that the restaurant was being forced to switch to another meat-free burger, this one made by Beyond Meat, because Impossible Burger couldn’t keep up with production demand.

“What is disappointing is the lack of notice that we would have a shortage,” O’Brien told RB. “They built their business on brands like Brgrbelly, on companies they’re basically shorting the product on. … It’s just disappointing. However, it’s a capitalist country, and the big players supersede the mom and pops.”

Impossible Foods says its plant in Oakland, Calif., currently employs about 70 full-time employees and that the company is “aggressively recruiting” additional workers, including a crew to staff a planned third shift.

In July, the company plans to install a second production line that will double current capacity.

“We anticipate that the second line will be fully staffed and ramped up in the fall,” the company said in a statement.

Impossible Foods also said it plans to add more manufacturing capacity but declined to provide details.

Meatless burgers, like those made by Impossible and Beyond, have caught on with consumers given their extreme likeness to beef in flavor and texture. The companies use a plant-based protein called heme to replicate the flavor, and even the blood-red color, of beef.

Beyond Meat launched its initial public offering, one of the year’s most successful IPOs, earlier this month, with plans to raise more than $240 million to grow the company. And Tyson Foods, once an investor in Beyond Meat, announced this week it would debut its own line of meatless products this summer.

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