Doing the Impossible: Meatless Burgers Surging

September 21, 2020

I ate, I think, 4 of these things last week. I go in streaks.
If you’re on the road and looking for a less compromised meal, it’s a good choice.

Apparently the lockdown has encouraged a lot families to experiment with meatless meats


The prevalence of plant-based burgers in grocery stores across the US has produced a surprisingly new trend: the majority of sales of the plant-based Impossible Burger come at the expense of animal-derived meat. That data comes from Chicago-based analytics company, Numerator. Impossible Foods’ sales now position it as one of America’s fastest-growing brands and the leading driver of growth in the overall plant-based food category.

There’s one important stat that stands out among them all in this trend toward replacing meats with plant-based foods: 9 out of 10 people who buy Impossible Burger regularly eat animal-derived foods.

“There’s a greater concern for food safety; there’s been a lot more attention to how meat is produced in the media. People are trying to figure out safer ways to find what they’re looking for, and plant-based meat provides not only a great increase in food safety, but also in environmental sustainability,” Matt Ball, a senior communications specialist at the Good Food Institute, told Forbes.

Chicago-based analytics company Numerator analyzed consumer buying habits of the Impossible Burger in the most recent 13-week period. Here are the stats.

  • 21 cents for every dollar spent on Impossible Burger at brick-and-mortar grocery stores is incremental to the entire meat category (which includes plant- and animal-based meat) — in other words, Impossible Burger gets consumers to spend 21% more on all categories of meat.
  • 78 cents per dollar comes from consumers who are shifting their purchases to Impossible Burger from other categories of plant- and animal-based meat.
  • 92% of Impossible Burger sales come directly at the expense of animal-derived meats — thus, Impossible Burger is displacing animal-derived foods for 72% of total purchases.

Part of this surge has to do with changing consumer lifestyle habits during COVID-19. Global consumer research shows that the home continues to be the focus for living, working, and shopping, despite restrictions lifting. Consumers’ personal situations are influencing attitudes and behavior, including levels of comfort venturing out. They are shopping mindfully and cost-consciously, with demand for local, sustainable, and value brands rising.

In essence, health, safety, and finances continue to impact consumers’ attitudes and behavior, and those qualities are reflected in Impossible Burger sales. Before the pandemic, the Impossible Burger was available in fewer than 150 grocery stores. Impossible Foods’ retail growth comes particularly from Americans trying Impossible Burger for the first time; the percentage of first-time customers has doubled each month since April. In the past 6 months, Impossible Burger sales have increased 77-fold and are now available at 11,000 retail locations in all 50 states, including Kroger, Trader Joe’s, and Walmart. Starting this month, Impossible Burger is rolling out at nearly 1,500 Target stores nationwide.

“Three out of four Americans now live within 10 miles of a grocery store where they can buy Impossible Burger. And when people cook it at home, they start telling friends and family about it,” Impossible Foods Senior Vice President for Sales Dan Greene said. “Our retail surge has become a powerful flywheel for long-term growth.”


“The crisis has encouraged a sense of new-product discovery in this category,” Jaime Athos, Tofurky CEO told Forbes. “Consumer awareness of the positive social and environmental impacts of plant-based proteins are continuing to grow . . . compounded more recently by the closure of meat production facilities and supply chain disruptions.”

Conagra’s Gardein—which makes fish, chicken, beef and fish alternatives—told Forbes that sales increased by 65% from March 13, 2020, to April 19, 2020, compared the same period in 2019.

Tofurky, which sells 35 different plant-based alternative meat products said to Forbes that sales have increased 40% in the last twelve weeks, with the sale of its plant-based ham growing 631% compared to the same period last year.

Kellogg’s plant-based meat brand MorningStar Farms reported to Forbes a 66% increase in March sales, driven by frozen vegetable proteins.

38% of Gardein buyers were first-time customers, which Conagra’s senior vice president of demand sciences Bob Nolan told Forbes reflects the growing interest in plant-based proteins.

Cleantechnica again:

Beef production is particularly harmful to the planet; it requires 160 times more land and produces 11 times more greenhouse gases than staple plant-based foods such as potatoes, wheat, and rice. Cows also put out an enormous amount of methane, causing almost 10% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions and contributing to climate change due to enteric fermentation — the digestive process of converting sugars into simple molecules for absorption into the bloodstream. Enteric fermentation produces methane as a by-product.

Impossible Burger uses 96% less land, 87% less water, and 89% fewer greenhouse gas emissions compared to conventional beef from cows. I learned that home chefs can also log into the Impossible Foods’ Impact Calculator to learn exactly how much land, water, and emissions I would save by using Impossible Burger instead of ground beef from cows. (Note: I’m a lifelong vegetarian, so the concept of buying meat for my dinner is quite foreign. ) So I logged in! It sparked my curiosity to see a way to conceptualize environmental impacts by making conscious food-buying decisions. Let’s see how I did.

It seems like, in a hypothetical month, my family of 2 would eat about 6 Impossible Burgers. The GHG emissions saved were equivalent to 47.3 pounds of carbon. The land footprint equivalent was 2.6 trees worth of land. The water footprint yielded 1.7 days of personal water use. Yowza! I could even have printed a downloadable infographic celebrating my family’s environmental impact by replacing 6 meat items with Impossible Burgers.

3 Responses to “Doing the Impossible: Meatless Burgers Surging”

  1. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    Most of the vegetarians and vegans I have encountered usually reported a combination of reasons for avoiding meat:

    – ethics of corporate livestock farming animal welfare
    – environmental “cost” of meats
    – personal health (diet)

    Some include the ethical issues for humans who do the meat processing. The high infection* and death rates from CoVID of low-paid (but desperate for employment) workers have been allowed and excused with the labeling of the meat supply as “essential”.

    *Meat plants are kept cold to reduce bacterial growth on dead animal tissue. Cold keeps viruses stable until they encounter the living tissue of the next worker in the crowded plant.

  2. Gingerbaker Says:

    “– ethics of corporate livestock farming animal welfare”

    Which ignores the multiple billions of animals killed every year by the process of crop ag. At least with livestock, the animal you kill is the animal you eat.

    “– environmental “cost” of meats”

    Which is significantly less than the environmental cost of crop ag in the US

    “– personal health (diet)”

    The high carbohydrate content of crop foods and our current dietary guidelines are what has led to the explosion of obesity and diabetes syndromes. Meanwhile, the ill health associations of red meat are highly questionable, if not already proven unfounded. Indeed, keto diets are being used to reverse diabetes conditions.

    In other words, the simplistic mantra that “Meat is bad” is nonsense.

    • mountainguy Says:

      Nice summary, however it ignores the massive portion of crop ag and water dedicated to livestock, which “kills multiple billions of animals” in addition to the animal you eat. Varies by country, but it’s not insignificant.
      Frankly the comments on health are not supported by the science, quite the opposite.
      Simplistic mantras are all nonsense: There’s a simple answer to every complex question. And it is wrong.

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