Impossible Burger shortage stung local restaurants

  • Local restaurant on Main Street in Northampton. STAFF FILE PHOTO

  • The Impossible Burger along with its cousin, Beyond Burgers, has become a sensation. IMPOSSIBLE FOODS/ANTHONY LINDSEY PHOTOGRAPHY

Staff Writer
Published: 9/20/2019 11:46:42 PM

NORTHAMPTON — In early August, Burger Kings around the country — including the store on King Street — made headlines when they started selling Impossible Burgers, a meatless patty that tastes surprisingly meaty and “bleeds,” thanks to genetically engineered ingredients such as heme, a molecule that the company says “makes meat taste like meat.”

But getting them stocked in the chain restaurant caused a bit of a beef with some local businesses. Just before the fast-food restaurant rolled out the vegetarian burgers at more than 7,000 locations on Aug. 8, some other businesses that had already been selling them said they were temporarily shut off for several weeks because of a supply shortage.

“They threw the little guy under the bus and gave it to Burger King,” said Joe Igneri, who owns Local with his three sons. The restaurant, which has locations in Northampton, Haydenville and Keene, New Hampshire, had been selling the burgers for more than a year when they were unable to get more leading up to Burger King’s launch.

Without the Impossible Burger for months, “We had people walk out of here,” he said while sitting on a stool at a bar table in the Northampton restaurant. “There’s my business,” he said.

Ironically, Igneri said, smaller businesses like his helped build Impossible Burger’s brand by selling the product long before the national chain started carrying it.

He understands BK is a big company that wants to sell in large quantities, but still, he said, the situation wasn’t fair. “It’s all about the moola,” he said.

A few weeks ago, Igneri was offered Impossible Burgers again, but he said no. “I don’t want to talk to them,” he said. “They’re out of my life.”

Igneri wonders what would happen to the supply if more national chains such as McDonald’s started to stock the burger. “I don’t want to play that game,” he said.

A homemade veggie burger is still on the restaurant’s menu, and Igneri is now devising his own vegan burger recipe. “Mine’s all vegetables. Nothing else.”

A spokeswoman for Impossible Foods wrote in an email that the shortages were not due to supplying Burger King — the supply issues ended in July, right before the Impossible Whopper’s launch, she said.

“Demand exploded” for the burgers this year, she wrote, and issues with supplies initially started in March. “Since then, we’ve tripled our weekly production rate and doubled headcount at the Impossible Foods plant in Oakland,” the spokeswoman said. Burger Kings now make up roughly 40 percent of the restaurants where Impossible Burgers are sold, according to the company.

She added: “Impossible Foods recognizes the inconvenience that scarcity caused and sincerely apologizes to all customers.”

In recent months, restaurants in San Francisco and Saint Louis experienced issues similar to Local’s, according to the San Francisco Chronicle and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Pulse Cafe, one of the few other Valley eateries with the Impossible Burger, also experienced supply issues this summer with the fake meat, according to general manager Evita Wilbur. Starting a few weeks before the Burger King launch, the Hadley vegetarian restaurant wasn’t able to get the product, a “staple” in the cafe that it’s been selling for more than a year, Wilbur said.

“I was a little frustrated with what happened,” she said. “We’re a plant-based restaurant. It comprised a huge percentage of our business.”

Without the genetically engineered burger, she started selling Beyond Burgers, a plant-based patty competitor. When the Impossible Burger supply came back, the restaurant stocked those as well.

Though she’s glad fast-food restaurants are beginning to provide options for vegans, she was frustrated with how the situation played out.

“It really does affect you when you have a small business,” she said. “I would have liked provisions made prior to that so that people that have been carrying your product for a year wouldn’t be affected.”

She added, “They sold out, in a way.”

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com.




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