April 17, 2019
Joining us on the Marketing Mix Podcast is Jessica Appelgren, the VP of Communications of Impossible Foods. Jessica talks market based solutions to sustainability, achieving impact at scale, and the importance of earned media. With the recent launch of the Impossible Burger 2.0, Jessica discusses success at CES 2019, a new partnership with fast-food giant Burger King and how they’re handing the keys over to consumers with new supermarket distribution plans.
Jeff Ragovin: Why do you think 2019 has been so big for you compared to the last few years?
Jessica Appelgren: I credit our founder, Pat Brown, for seizing the moment when he did in 2011. He had no desire to leave his dream job as a Stanford biochemistry professor, but he was motivated by the contribution that animal agriculture and the way we make meat today plays in climate change. He felt like he had to do something, and it’s a really inspiring story to me because it wasn't what you’d expect that guy to do. He had no intention to ever start a business or company, he just saw a problem and he had a way of solving it that he didn’t think anyone else was pursuing, so he felt compelled to pursue it. That was in 2011 so, timing-wise, I think our launch of the burger in 2016 with David Chang, which was a marketing juggernaut in and of itself, was the beginning of consumers welcoming the possibility of a different way to make meat.
What’s happening today is that we have this amazing awakening to the problem that we’re trying to solve, which is the contribution animal agriculture makes to the climate, biodiversity, water and land. There have been so many throwdowns on the climate change issue that I think it’s opening people’s eyes to saying “oh okay, the way that we eat has an impact”. Simultaneously, we’ve been scaling since 2016 to the point that we can even consider servicing a Red Robin or Whitecastle or Burger King. It’s a very exciting time because the problem and the solution are coming together with the burger.
Jeff Ragovin: Do you have any plans to bring the Impossible Foods burger to the supermarket?
Jessica Appelgren: We certainly do! That is definitely going to be the moment that the rubber hits the road in terms of a consumer movement around meat made from plants. We’ve been public about our intentions to go into grocery stores by the end of this year. While I’d like to say that we’ll be everywhere by the end of this year, we won’t. It’s going to take some time to build up that side of the business and really crush it, and that’s our intention. You’re definitely going to see it soon and it’s exciting because we’re going to turn the keys over to the consumer to finally get the chance to cook it and understand the magic of this product and the way it changes when you cook it, just the way meat from a cow does.
Jeff Ragovin: Can you talk about the difference between Impossible Burger 1.0 and the 2.0 you just launched?
Jessica Appelgren: The new version of the burger is truly delicious. This version has no cholesterol, it is juicier, grillable and just tastier in general. I am still amazed when I bite into one of these. I could be convinced that I am eating meat from a cow, it just hits on all the marks and performs exactly like you want it to. This version of the burger is also kosher and halal. Gluten free was definitely a box to check so that population can come under the tent. You can throw this burger down on the grill in summertime and it will perform exactly like a burger from the cow where the last version didn’t.
The beauty of Impossible Foods is that we get better every day. We are testing different versions of the burger every single day along with lots of other products and we have the ability to turn up the volume on things that consumers want and turn down the volume on things they don’t. It is going to change over time, but with the 2.0 version it’s hard to see how it could get better.
Jeff Ragovin: When thinking about advertising, how are you targeting people who eat meat vs people who are vegan?
Jessica Appelgren: We are largely an earned-media brand, so we lean heavily into old-fashioned PR tactics that just seem to work because we have such a steady stream of news. We are not over-indexed on ad spend, but I think the real marketing genius here was choosing the chefs that are known for being meat chefs right from the beginning, so going to their restaurants and having their endorsement on these products was the best ad move we could have ever made.
We followed that up as we went to quick-service restaurants, so the fast-food chains that serve it are the places where meat-eaters go. Because of that, the adoption that we are seeing is purely about bringing the carnivores in. This is 100% not a product for vegans and vegetarians, we are converting the carnivores.
Jeff Ragovin: Are you converting carnivores because the burger tastes so good, or because you’re convincing them of the benefits of going meat-free?
Jessica Appelgren: It’s kind of an interesting play we’re making here, because our target is the hardcore meat lover, and we just want them to love this. We want them to choose this on their own accord because it’s tastier, more nutritious, better for the world and makes them feel better. If you’re choosing the Impossible Burger for those reasons, you don’t need to make an identity switch from a carnivore to a vegetarian or vegan, you’re just eating something you love.
Over time, the more we can make switch is what is going to solve the problem, not by convincing people they need to make a change or do something differently. Our strategy is to just do what you’re doing, but do it with this product instead of the product you’re currently using. It’s working, people are adding this to their diet and, in effect, then taking away meat from a cow. It’s replacing the burger that they used to eat.
Jeff Ragovin: After winning so many awards, like the best of the best, the most unexpected product, the most impactful product, when you think about your brand, how do you continue to keep up with these expectations?
Jessica Appelgren: Those awards came out of CES and it was largely the fact that nobody had ever launched a food product at CES, so we were a first. Because we straddle the space of being a tech company, a food company and a sustainable, mission-driven company, we can play with our identity. So, going to CES to launch the next version of our burger was so curious and surprising. There was a giant amount of interest in what we were doing and how we were doing it. All of the awards coming out of it were just a cherry on top, but the response that we got from that community to this version of the burger was better than we could have hoped.
Every customer that is putting their hand up to adopt this, is news because we know that it means America is changing their perspective. I saw some research by civic science, they did a study right after we launched with Burger King, totally independent of us with 2000 people in the US and 1 in 5 Americans are likely to try the Impossible Whopper. That is ⅕ of the country that is likely to adopt this product as part of their lives and they are not vegetarians, they are overwhelmingly meat eaters.
Jeff Ragovin: What has the feedback been around that? The people who would never think of not getting a Whopper go and have the Impossible Whopper, what do they say?
Jessica Appelgren: We hear that they are wanting more options, wanting to be more thoughtful about their diet holistically and that the newness is really exciting, but it’s the surprising delicious experience that they have when they try the burger that keeps them coming back for more. We have found that tasting is believing, so the best marketing we can do is getting our products in the hands of as many people we can. The first time you have that experience you realize, “this is exactly what I was craving, and it doesn’t have these negative side effects.”
It’s meeting the mark with all of the things that matter, like nutrition, deliciousness, craveability and affordability. The Impossible Whopper is about a dollar more than their original whopper. It’s kind of like the comparison between grass fed beef and 80/20 ground beef on the market.
Jeff Ragovin: How did the partnership come about?
Jessica Appelgren: We are talking to everyone right now. Our mission to completely replace the need for animals in the food system by 2035 and bring about all the benefits to the planet that come with that is so critical. It’s so urgent, we really do need to be everywhere that you currently are going for meat from a cow. Early talks with all of these players have now escalated now that we’ve been able to ramp our production.
We started talking to Burger King in the fall of last year. They wanted a product that would be a new option for consumers that would not be a veggie burger, they already had a veggie burger, but something that would be worthy of the Whopper name. We did some back and forth testing of different versions of the burger that would hold up to the way they flame-broil their burgers. By early this year we were already talking about launch plans and they were one of the most fun brands to align with, they are super creative and are willing to try anything, they are super raw human in how they connect with people and we love that.
Jeff Ragovin: Thank you for joining the Marketing Mix Podcast.
Please note, the above has been paraphrased for editorial purposes