Is declining interest in the plant-based burger to blame?

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An Impossible Whopper meal
Credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

If you flip your couch cushions over, check the pockets of your coat, and look under the passenger seat in your car, you might find enough change to get not one but two Impossible Whoppers at Burger King.

The fast food chain recently announced that the Impossible Whopper is now part of its two-for-$6 menu, at least temporarily. Before it became part of this promotion, a single plant-based sandwich cost $5.59.

"Burger King continues to be the world’s largest QSR to feature a sandwich with a plant-based patty. Our plant-based Whopper is available in more than 25 countries worldwide and continues to exceed expectations, drive traffic to our restaurants and attract new incremental guests," Chris Finazzo, the president of Burger King North America, said.

"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. The addition of the Impossible Whopper to the 2 for $6 promotion is just another example of our ongoing commitment to providing great products at a great value for our guests."

Although it's a great value, some franchisees have gently suggested that the price drop is due to declining sales of the Impossible Whopper. Bloomberg reports that Carrols Restaurant Group Inc, which operates more than 1,000 Burger King locations, has seen its Impossible sales drop from around 32 sandwiches per day to 28. (By comparison, Carrols sells an average of 234 beef Whoppers every day, which cost about a dollar less than their meat-free counterpart.)

Dan Accordino, the CEO of Carrols, thinks that the success of the Popeyes chicken sandwich stole some fast food market share last fall (although he's probably not complaining: Carrols also operates 60 Popeyes restaurants). Last August, when everyone was losing their minds over The Sandwich, Accordino said that his restaurants were selling 1,100 of them every day.

That number has since dropped to a less insane number, and Accordino suggests that sales of both the Popeyes chicken sandwich and the Impossible Whopper have stabilized—at least for now.

"That plant-based platform will be advertised and will be expanded on the Burger King marketing calendar in 2020,” he said, adding that the chain is currently testing both an Impossible Whopper Jr. and an Impossible Sausage breakfast sandwich.

The Impossible Whopper was added to Burger King menus nationwide last year, after a successful test run at 59 restaurants in the St. Louis area. Data analytics firm inMarket inSights reported that the BKs that were part of the Impossible trial outperformed the chain's national foot traffic average by 18.5 percent. By contrast, Burger King locations outside St. Louis saw their average foot traffic fall by 1.75 percent between March and April. 

It will be interesting to see what happens with Impossible Whopper sales going forward, especially since other fast food chains, restaurants, and supermarkets (most recently Trader Joe's) have since rolled out their own meatless menu items, including burgers, breakfast sandwiches, and Impossible Sausage-topped pizzas. There are so many more plant-based options than there were even six months ago—and one of the country's biggest chains hasn't even officially gotten in the game yet.

Earlier this month, McDonald's said that it would be doubling the number of restaurants that are currently trialing its Beyond Meat-topped P.L.T. (Plant, Lettuce, and Tomato) in Canada; by the middle of this month, 52 restaurants in southwest Ontario are expected to be serving the sandwich. 

Impossible Foods recently announced that, when McDonald's decides to make the P.L.T. (or something similar) a permanent menu item, it might not be the one that provides the patties. "It would be stupid for us to be vying for them right now," Impossible Foods CEO Pat Brown said. "Having more big customers right now doesn’t do us any good until we scale up production."

In the meantime, grab those two-for-six sandwiches while you can.