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Impossible Burger shortages hit restaurants as the meat-free firm races rivals

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The Impossible Burger 2.0, a new version of the company’s plant-based vegan burger, is introduced at a press event in January.
(Robyn Beck / AFP / Getty Images)
Bloomberg

Restaurant chains Red Robin and White Castle are reporting shortages of Impossible Foods Inc.’s popular meat-free patties, underscoring the pressure the plant-based food company faces trying to manufacture for the mass market and get a head start on a growing crop of rivals.

Calls to a dozen Red Robins and the same number of White Castles on Thursday found that only two locations of each chain had Impossible Foods Inc.’s patties available. Individual locations from New York to Hillsboro, Ore., with the burger on their menu told customers this week that they’re fresh out.

White Castle said Friday that the patties would be back no later than Monday. The chain said the shortage was related to a change in the shape of its Impossible Sliders, to square from round.

“As we geared up for the change, we had short-term shortages here and there, but not universally,” White Castle said in an email. Impossible Foods is a “great partner and we’re confident they’ll quickly power through the process of ramping up production to meet growing demand,” the company said.

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The corporate offices of Red Robin Gourmet Burgers Inc. didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The hit-or-miss availability of Impossible Foods items at the chains, which each have hundreds of restaurants, adds to shortages of the popular meat-free patties that mom-and-pop restaurants have been reporting for weeks.

“We’re waiting for it to come in,” said Rebecca Sparks, 34, supervisor at Left Coast Food + Juice in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. She said there is no word on when it will be available again.

Rachel Konrad, spokeswoman for closely held Impossible Foods, told Bloomberg that the gap between supply and demand “has nothing to do with” a nationwide expansion effort underway with Burger King.

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The Impossible Whopper at Burger King was tested in St. Louis in April and expanded to more cities. Under terms of a deal inked earlier this year, Impossible Foods patties will be inside Burger Kings nationwide by the end of this year. The chain operates more than 7,300 U.S. restaurants in the U.S.

Every Burger King location contacted by Bloomberg, including those in St. Louis, Miami; Montgomery, Alabama; and Columbus, Ga.; said the patties were in stock. Burger King did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The supply hiccups may be a sign of how eager companies are to expand market share as demand soars for meat alternatives and startups that make the products increasingly go national.

While overall meat consumption is rising globally, including in the U.S., there’s also been a rise in plant-based diets in wealthy nations. This has spawned an expanding array of meat substitutes, ranging from products that are meat-like but made from plant matter, to meat that’s grown in a lab instead of taken from slaughtered livestock. Lab-grown meat isn’t yet available to the public.

As major restaurant chains latch on to the plant-based meat craze, they are going to want assurances that once an item is placed on the menu, it can stay there, said Linda Ashbrook, director of innovation and customer solutions at Datassential.

“Those companies have to prove to these bigger brands that they can, in fact, deliver day in and day out,” she said.

Plant-based burger maker Beyond Meat beats forecasts, and stock soars »

Impossible Foods has said that it would sell its products in retail outlets this year, too. It’s currently awaiting Food and Drug Administration approval for its “magic” ingredient known as heme, which is made with genetically modified yeast. That ingredient gives the company’s soy-based burgers their meaty taste, and because it imparts a red color to the raw product, it requires extra approval for grocery sales.

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Rival Beyond Meat Inc., which has seen its stock rise about 500% since its recent public offering, said this week that its plant-based sausage breakfast sandwiches are available at almost 4,000 Tim Hortons locations across Canada.

In a recent earnings call, Beyond Meat executives said they’d learned from past supply problems, but the company may not be out of the woods yet. Burrito chain Freebirds, which has more than 70 locations in the U.S., announced on its website that it has temporarily halted sales of its Beyond Meat-based Mexican fare “due to a supply shortage.”


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