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Jan 22, 2020

Burger King cuts Impossible Whopper price on sales slowdown

Restaurant Brands CEO: Reaction to plant-based alternatives has been positive


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Burger King is cutting the price of its faux-meat burger as sales start to dip following last year’s introduction.

Carrols Restaurant Group Inc., the biggest Burger King franchisee in the U.S., 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-US$6 discount menu on a temporary basis. That compares to the previous suggested price of US$5.59 per sandwich.

The slowdown is not stopping the chain from continuing to use the item as a lure for diners, however. More promotions and ads are coming for Impossible Foods Inc. items, Carrols Chief Executive Officer Daniel Accordino said at a conference.

“That plant-based platform will be advertised and will be expanded on the Burger King marketing calendar in 2020,” he said, noting that there will be an expansion of the Impossible Whopper line this year, and that the company is testing the Impossible Whopper Jr. and Impossible Sausage.

‘Exceed Expectations’

Dominic Flis, a Burger King owner in Little Rock, Arkansas, said that Impossible Whopper sales have recently dipped to fewer than 20 per store a day, compared with 30 a day when it was first introduced. He may now be selling it at a loss, he said.

“It’s definitely compressing the margin,” he said.

Burger King’s plant-based Whopper “continues to exceed expectations, drive traffic to our restaurants and attract new incremental guests,” Chris Finazzo, president of the chain’s Americas region, said in a statement. “We continue to see high levels of repeat restaurant visits, showing that guests are enjoying the Impossible Whopper and returning for more over and over again.”

Burger King, owned by Restaurant Brands International Inc., introduced the meat alternative nationwide last year after a successful test in St. Louis. The company said in October that the sandwich was a “huge hit” and helped U.S. comparable sales, a closely watched measure, climb five per cent in the third quarter.

Impossible-related promotions have included free delivery, free samples for delayed airport passengers, and beginning last week, the item’s entry on the discount menu.

Satisfying Sales

Impossible Foods “is satisfied” with sales at fast-food restaurants, spokeswoman Rachel Konrad said. She said that a lot of variability is normal due to factors such as seasonality, ad campaigns and restaurant locations.

“We’re happy to work with customers to improve sales across the board,” Konrad said.

Across the U.S., restaurants and grocery stores are rushing to add plant-based options. It remains to be seen whether their popularity is a long-lasting trend, but the biggest restaurant and food companies are moving to capitalize on the growth. Starbucks Corp. on Tuesday said it’s exploring meat alternatives for its breakfast menu, while McDonald’s Corp. is testing faux-meat from Beyond Meat in Canada and from Swiss company Nestle SA in Germany. Food distributor Sysco Corp. last week said it’s introducing a new plant-based burger patty in the U.S.

More Meat

Despite the rising popularity of faux meat, Americans are also eating more real meat than ever. Total red meat and poultry consumption is expected to rise to 225.6 pounds per person this year from 224.3 pounds in 2019, according to USDA data. Even at Burger King, there’s no evidence that the meat-free option has led to less meat consumption.

Impossible Whopper sales were not cutting into regular Whopper sales, according to a note from UBS analyst Steven Strycula in December.

It’s not surprising that sales have leveled off, said Adam Chandler, author of Drive-Thru Dreams: A Journey Through the Heart of America’s Fast-Food Kingdom.

“The fatigue tends to set in after the initial buzz,” he said, noting that Carrols has reported a similar stabilization of Popeyes much-hyped chicken sandwiches. But Chandler doesn’t expect the Impossible Whopper to be cut from menus anytime soon because of the chain’s big investment in a national rollout, he said.

“It’s going to stick around for a long time,” he predicted.