Starting Friday, Impossible Foods Inc. will finally offer its eponymous plant-based burger in U.S. grocery stores.
The Impossible Burger will make its retail debut at 27 Gelson’s Markets locations in Southern California before expanding its retail presence late this year and early next, the company said in a statement. The product is to arrive in additional stores, including on the East Coast, later this month, but Redwood City, Calif.-based Impossible Foods did not name those stores.
The burger has already multiplied across restaurant menus, including Burger King locations nationwide, after starting at New York City’s Momofuku Nishi in July 2016. But until now it hasn’t been available as a raw product to consumers.
Along with competitor Beyond Meat Inc., Impossible’s protein substitute has helped to fuel a plant-based meat craze that has left traditional food behemoths playing catch-up. With sales of faux meat exploding, Kellogg Co.’s new meat-like Incogmeato Burger will hit stores early next year, and Nestle’s Sweet Earth Foods brand will release an Awesome Burger in the United States this fall.
Demand has boomed as consumers seek out foods they see as healthier and more environmentally friendly than beef. Imitation meat could reach 9% of the estimated $2.7-trillion global meat market by 2040, Jefferies analyst Simon Powell forecasts, from less than 1% now.
Impossible Foods has faced obstacles in its path to grocery stores. The soy-based burger is known for its convincing meat-like flavor, texture and appearance, which the company says comes from the “magic ingredient”: soy leghemoglobin, also known as “heme.” But this same ingredient, which is made with a genetically engineered yeast, has also slowed its launch in retail.
Because it imparts a color onto the raw product, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration was required to amend the color additive rules to call heme safe before the product could be sold uncooked. While many environmentalists have applauded the introduction of foods such as the Impossible Burger because they replace beef, some groups such as Friends of the Earth and Center for Food Safety filed objections to the FDA change, arguing that heme hasn’t been adequately tested for safety. Impossible Foods has repeatedly said the burger is safe and complies with all applicable laws.
“Although it’s perfectly safe for you to eat, who knows what might happen if you look at it? Be that as it may, it’s gone through that process as well,” Impossible Foods founder and Chief Executive Pat Brown quipped at an event Thursday at a Los Angeles Gelson’s store to mark the product’s arrival there.
The burger will be available in 12-ounce packages for $8.99 at Gelson’s, which is more expensive than competitor Beyond Meat’s comparable Beyond Beef product.
Brown said that 90% of Impossible Foods customers also eat meat — an indication of how the popularity of the company’s products has been driven by a rise of flexitarians: people who are eating less meat without cutting it out completely.
He said the company is working on lamb, chicken and fish substitutes. The biggest challenge, he added, is getting the chemical structure correct so it captures the texture of different meat tissues and fat. He said ground beef is easier to replicate than, for example, bacon.