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Sunday, December 15, 2019

August 8th: Time to bite “The ‘Burger”?

The first fast food  promoted like a summer blockbuster is coming to drive-ins country wide . . .

Or is it? Burger King started teasing its Impossible Whopper back in April, but the rollout of drive-up access to Impossible Meat’s all-vegetable miracle-burger turned out to be confined to just 60 stores in St. Louis, Missouri, and even there it’s usually been “out of stock due to overwhelming demand.”

So don’t be too sure an August 8 drive up to Mountlake Terrace or down to Kent (four stores within four miles!) is going to score you a taste of vegan carnality. Better to save the gas and take a bus to Rainier Avenue South and Hill Street—what I’m going to do—and minimize the disappointment.

Still, I can’t help hoping that this time, BK pulls it off. It’s overdue for a break. Since the chain was founded in 1953 Miami, it’s been the consistent runner-up to McDonald’s in the drive-in burger sector, and its Whopper consistently rated tastier than the ubiquitous Big Mac.

And BK has managed to do that while under incessant assault by the merger-and-acquisition vultures: bought up, drained of cash, sold to the next speculator, repeat ad lib: Pillsbury, Grand Metropolitan, Diageo,pTPG Capital . . . Even on the World Wide Web it’s hard to discover who currently owns it. (My cautious guess: the Brazilian conglomerate 3G Capital, but that may already be yesterday’s news.)

The Impossible Whopper may be the last, best opportunity for Burger King, the eternal No. 2 of the fast-food universe, to get beyond its red-headed stepchild business image. But success will depend entirely on its partner Impossible Meats—a startup with a great product but so far unable to gear up supply to meet demand.

BK stumbled badly when its Missouri drive-ins failed to realize that vegans are as particular about their food as strict Orthodox Jews and Halal-keeping Muslims. They did not like learning their Impossible patties were sizzling on grills beside the evil beef variety. Twitter went lunar. True vegans may never forgive the lapse.

While counting on Impossible to provide enough product to fill the grills at its 8000+ US outlets, BK must also be praying that Impossible fails in its promise to have its Impossibles in every cooler case in every high-end supermarket chain in America by September. How can you trust a “partner” who goes lusting after the mass market while unable to live up to its commitment to you?

All considered, Burger King’s hail-Mary marketing pass seems beyond risky but unavoidable. I still hope the burger-craving masses are willing to be patient just a little longer. We’ve waited a long time for our lettuce-and-tomato-topped guilt-free indulgence. A little longer won’t hurt us.

Roger Downey
Born in Canada moved to Peru's altiplano at the age of six; came to the U.S. at 10 to discover that you don't use your feet to dribble the ball. Learned from the git-go that "America" is an idea, not a place.

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