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Lo-res_516333887-SImpossible Burger is a well-named company: It has pursued, and recently achieved, the seemingly impossible task of developing a meatless burger that could satisfy beef lovers. After years of experimentation, it believes it has perfected its plant-based Impossible Burger—and Burger King agrees. The fast-food chain thus is adding Impossible Burgers to its menu, initiating a nationwide rollout that will allow vegetarians to enjoy a Whopper just as much as their meat-eating counterparts do.

The new product is vegetarian but not vegan; the sandwich still features the mayonnaise that is slathered on traditional Whoppers. Indeed, it is designed to be nearly identical to the 100 percent beef Whoppers, and before expanding its product offerings, Burger King conducted extensive blind taste tests, in which people regularly were unable to identify which burger was meat and which was vegetarian.

The recipe for Impossible Burgers is unique, distinguished from competitive meatless offerings by its use of heme, which is a protein that appears naturally in beef. Through extensive testing, Impossible Burger found a way to cultivate and reproduce the heme with a combination of soybean plants and yeast. Then it combined the protein with various vegetarian ingredients, with the goal of reproducing the texture of ground beef. Another market option, produced by a company called Beyond Meat, instead used pea proteins and beet juice (to make the burgers look “bloody”) to develop burgers that currently are available at Carl’s Jr. restaurants.

To earn a position on Burger King’s menu boards, Impossible also had to reformulate its burger design, so that their appearance matched the square shape and relatively flat height of conventional Whoppers. It also had to prove that the burgers could withstand the flame broiling that Burger King famously uses to cook menu items in its stores. Once it had reached these goals, Burger King was ready to add the burgers to its approximately 7200 restaurants nationwide. The introduction created new challenges for Impossible Burger, which had to add another production shift to keep up with demand, as well as expand its facilities with a second production line, devoted only to supplying Burger King.

But these challenges also are elements of the broader goal that sparked the idea for Impossible Burger in the first place. The company founder has spent years trying to find an alternative to beef, citing mainly environmental justifications. Meat production is a primary contributor to environmental pollution, and the production of Impossible Burgers reduces these effects substantially. Furthermore, the meatless burgers provide consumers with equivalent levels of protein but an approximately 15 percent reduction in fat content and 90 percent less cholesterol. Finally, the product fulfills the demands of both vegetarian consumers who might like a fast food option and meat eaters who might want to reduce their meat consumption, such as by limiting it to once or twice a week.

Considering these benefits, the companies plan to charge more for Impossible Whoppers, about $1 more than a conventional Whopper. The packaging will be similar, with a plain paper wrapper, but the logo on the Impossible Whopper will tout, rather than “100% beef,” that it contains “100% Whopper, 0% beef.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. Will consumers embrace meatless burgers like the Impossible Whopper? What trends encourage this adoption, and which ones might limit it?
  2. Would you try an Impossible Whopper, even at a higher price? Why or why not?


Source: Nathaniel Popper, “Behold the Beefless ‘Impossible Whopper’,” The New York Times, April 1, 2019