Impossible Foods and Yelp aim to give mom-and-pop restaurants a post-lockdown boost, partnering for a promotion that names the Top 30 diners in the country and supplies them with free faux breakfast sausage.
The move takes Impossible, one of the biggest players in the meatless protein category, back to its roots, though its first placement deals were in tony, chef-centric venues like David Chang’s Momofuku Nishi restaurant in New York and Michael Symon’s B Spot burger bars.
The brand, which subsequently added fast food chains White Castle, Red Robin and Little Caesars, among others, has continued its mainstream tear lately via an alliance with Starbucks and an expanded relationship with Burger King.
The Yelp program, which began today, further cements the newly sizzling fake pork category, one of the food trends to watch in 2020 following the breakthrough last year of plant-based burgers from Impossible, Beyond Meat, Lightlife and other brands.
Impossible and Yelp, collaborating for the first time, have curated a list of favorite local haunts looking to drive traffic, whether dine-in where it’s allowed or takeout and delivery as businesses reopen in the wake of the monthslong shutdown caused by the coronavirus crisis.
The coast-to-coast directory includes legacy venues like Little Richard’s Family Diner in North Pole, Alaska (the city, not Santa’s HQ), the Oxbow Diner in Bliss, Idaho, and Brent’s Drugs in Jackson, Miss.
“We’ve built our brand on independently owned restaurants, so it’s a really important channel for us,” said Jessica Appelgren, Impossible’s vp of communications. “Consumers have a relationship with their local restaurants, many of them family owned, and we love the idea of introducing the brand to these community hubs.”
The program is part of Impossible’s stretch into more outlets, and the Silicon Valley-based startup will begin supplying its faux sausage directly to independent restaurants nationwide. At the same time, it has dramatically boosted its supermarket footprint for its meatless burgers at Kroger and other retailers.
(By contrast, 2019’s IPO darling Beyond Meat took the reverse approach, becoming a grocery staple first. Some 25,000 locations carry its burgers, and the brand has since fanned out to chains like Dunkin, TGI Fridays and Carl’s Jr. Its focus recently has been on value packs and discounts at retail and celebrity-led ads under the “Why Go Beyond” banner. The Los Angeles-based unicorn has also been pushing its plant-based sausage at restaurants this year.)
Impossible will initially donate its meatless sausage to the 30 diners in the promo, intending to help jumpstart their businesses and draw in flexitarian consumers who have spiked plant-based product sales by triple digits this year.
As part of the promo, Yelp will lend some of its expertise and tools, like Connect and Waitlist, free for a month so restaurants can reopen safely, manage capacity and, naturally, hype the Impossible sausage breakfast sandwich.
“Plant-based meat has experienced a significant rise in consumer interest on Yelp as we’ve seen a 140% increase in review mentions of ‘plant based’ over the past two years,” said Tara Lewis, Yelp trend expert, noting that Impossible burgers were among the hottest trends of 2019. “And we don’t see that slowing down anytime soon.”
The deal is meaningful to Impossible because “the classic Main Street diner is a cornerstone of American cuisine,” said Dennis Woodside, the brand’s president. “We want to work with independent restaurateurs and spread the world that America’s diners are open for business.”
Impossible pork and sausage, the company’s second product launch, has seen exponential growth since it premiered at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January. Within those six months, it has landed distribution in some 20,000 locations.
Compare that to its burger debut in 2016. By year’s end, it was available at a total of four high-end eateries. (The brand brought its first product upgrade, dubbed Impossible Burger 2.0, to CES in January 2018 as the first food to be showcased at the tech convention.)
The explosion of the meatless pork product is “a clear bellwether for future growth and a warning to incumbent meat producers,” said Impossible founder and CEO Patrick O. Brown.
The brand’s in-house team, led by vp of creative Giselle Guerrero, will launch Yelp stickers, animated GIFs and organic social media ads as part of the Yelp campaign.