A number of restaurants have recently adopted some new plant-based meat alternatives on their menus. The biggest one yet is the introduction of the “Impossible Whopper,” a burger king experiment in which their classic whopper beef patty was replaced with the Impossible Burger, starting in St. Louis locations. This move was accompanied by a flurry of journalism about the change (see articles in The Verge, Forbes, and The New York Times) and a commercial promoting the change:
CNET also ran a video recreating the Impossible Whopper, explaining the process that went into getting this plant-based burger ready for fast food.
The advantages of these plant-based burgers are numerous. The environmental impact of the meat production is far smaller. These burgers are generally better for your health (zero cholesterol, low-fat, etc). They also avoid the harm to animals that has led many consumers to reduc their meat consumption.
For all of these benefits, healthy, humane, and sustainable alternatives have a bit of a marketing/information barrier to overcome. Even with good labeling, at the point of purchase, it is difficult to weigh the information about different health metrics. People tend to eat healthier by making big changes to their purchasing: they buy a salad, pre-packaged low-calorie meal, or drink a light beer. What most customers rarely do is dig into the research about carbon footprint, water use, or animal treatment and slaughter.
This is where the Impossible Burger and other plant-based meats have an advantage. Without doing any research consumers can know from the marketing that these new options are healthier, better for the environment, and don’t involve killing baby animals. They make the smart choice really easy.
I write about these information and marketing issues in a book chapter titled “An Ethical Consumer Capitalism” which appeared recently in a book that collected scholarly work about these new advances in plant-based meats.
For most consumers, the real test is in taste and convenience. I am very interested to see if Burger King can get people to pay $1 extra for this burger and if people like it enough to buy it regularly.