As Redwood City-based Impossible Foods begins supplying chains like Burger King and Little Caesars, some SF restaurant owners who helped establish the brand’s popularity in the first place are feeling left behind. For the last two weeks, Hawaiian restaurant and pinball bar Outer Orbit has gone without the meat-like, vegan burger, one of its bestselling items. And for co-owner Christian Gainsley, it’s a blow to pride as well as business.
“It’s quite frustrating to us, who have been loyal brand ambassadors,” says Gainsley. “And I imagine we’re not the only ones having to scramble to adjust our menu.”
BiRite Foodservice Distributors, a major Brisbane-based company that supplies Outer Orbit, typically sells 200 cases a week of pre-shaped Impossible burger patties and another 100 cases of Impossible’s bulk “brick” product. But it’s been two weeks since BiRite received any product from Impossible to fulfill its 100 or so accounts — and Tom Whiteside, BiRite’s vice president of purchasing, is frustrated, too.
“One can reasonably assume that Burger King has product, and we here in the front yard of Impossible Foods are without product,” says Whiteside. “We’ve been a big assist in establishing the brand, especially in the independent restaurant segment. It’s disappointing to say the least.”
The Impossible shortage didn’t come out of the blue: In emails to restaurants and suppliers over the past month, the company warned that they might soon be strapped for product. Impossible’s “meat” — a combination of plant proteins and a blood-like substance called heme that’s derived from soy — is all manufactured at Impossible’s one factory in Oakland.
“We’re struggling to keep up with surging demand for the Impossible Burger, and we know many of you have experienced shortages,” a representative wrote to accounts on May 16. “We need to make more — fast.”
Impossible’s shortage affects Impossible’s entire national market, but the situation is particularly pronounced — and ironic — in the company’s hometown. According to a statement shared with Eater SF, Impossible is ramping up Oakland production by adding more employees and another shift at the plant. A new $300 million funding round, including investment from celebs like Jay-Z and Katy Perry, will help in production efforts, the company says.
Greenleaf Distribution in Brisbane is also out of Impossible. But Candice Jordan, the company’s director of marketing, isn’t too concerned. “Impossible’s been doing a great job communicating with us [about the shortage]” Jordan says.
While chefs might have to rearrange their menus to maximize product, that could lead to innovation, Jordan suggests. For the time being, Impossible will move toward bulk production only, rather than patties, a decision to optimize volume. “Hopefully, the bulk can create some new vegan items,” says Jordan: Think more Impossible sliders, meatballs, and tacos.
Meanwhile, Impossible representatives insist that the brand’s increased reach is good news for small businesses, too. “We know that increased awareness and mainstream acceptance of the Impossible Burger leads to increased sales at restaurants that already serve the burger over the long-term,” a representative reassured Outer Orbit’s Christian Gainsley by email. “The early success of the Impossible™ Whopper® is a major win for our mission to create a more sustainable food system, and a great indicator for all of our partners that the Impossible Burger is here to stay.”
At least so long as it can stay in stock.