Impossible Finds a Smart, Socially Distant Way to Revive Experiential: a Branded Car Wash

The event promoted the launch of premade patties in grocery stores this week

Plant-based meat brand Impossible handed out samples of its new pre-shaped patties as it moves more aggressively into grocery stores. Impossible
Headshot of T.L. Stanley

It takes four minutes to drive through the typical Los Angeles car wash. Coincidentally, it also takes four minutes to cook a plant-based Impossible burger. 

Impossible Foods found a way to tie them together, somewhat, this week as it dipped cautiously back into experiential marketing with “The Great Patty Pickup Party.” The event was staged to introduce its first premade meatless patties, which will compete with similar products already on the market like Beyond Meat’s popular faux-meat patties.

Hundreds of motorists attending the Impossible event Wednesday near Dodger Stadium got free car washes and, on their way out, packages of the new product, which launched this week at national grocery stores.

Also in the goodie bags: Ralph’s gift cards and low-tech French fry kits (actually potatoes with cooking instructions).

The socially distanced stunt, custom-created to comply with safety concerns amid the pandemic, was intended to make noise around Impossible’s retail footprint, which has grown exponentially in 2020—while also hyping up the launch of its new patties.

“We keep making it more convenient for people to try the product,” Giselle Guerrero, Impossible’s vp of creative, told Adweek. “And this is the easiest door to walk through yet.”

It’s the latest salvo in an intense battle that’s escalated in the plant-based protein category, dominated by Impossible and rival Beyond Meat, with new and legacy players like Boca Burger, Morningstar Farms, Gardein, Dr. Praeger’s and Lightlife also grabbing attention and market share.

Impossible, which has seen record-breaking sales spikes during the public health crisis, is touting its ubiquity and accessibility at a time when consumers are rethinking (and reducing) their meat consumption and preparing more meals at home.

We miss doing events, but we had to come up with a Covid-safe solution.

Giselle Guerrero, vp of creative, Impossible Foods

After first launching at upscale restaurants, Impossible now sells through some 10,000 supermarkets including Kroger, Albertsons, Trader Joe’s, Walmart and Wegmans. That number represents a 66-fold increase this year. 

Until now, the brand sold its faux-burger product only in 12-ounce packages, akin to traditional ground beef. But the new preformed patties intend to be an easier grab-and-go option that can shave off prep time for busy home cooks.

The brand, like many in the plant-based space, has relied heavily on sampling in the past but had to halt most of that activity since the spring.

“We miss doing events, but we had to come up with a Covid-safe solution,” Guerrero said. “For this experience, no one had to leave their cars.”

By mid-afternoon Wednesday, more than 500 consumers had visited the drive-through activation, she said, with another several hundred expected before the 6 p.m. close.

As part of the new product intro, the marketer launched its first out-of-home ads in L.A., aiming to capitalize on the upcoming Labor Day holiday. Tagline: “Open, grill, repeat.”

The new retail package, made from recyclable materials, contains two burger patties for $5.99, putting it head-to-head with Beyond’s entrenched offering (same size and roughly the same price) at 26,000 grocery locations.

The two competitors, who spent much of 2019 trying to one-up each other for plant-based supremacy, have focused this year on expanding their digital business and supermarket presence for their flagship burgers.

And though restaurants have suffered during the pandemic, the brands have continued to make gains in that space, notably with pork, sausage and chicken substitutes. (The fake meat war, version 2020, has been largely centered on breakfast sandwiches and sausage alternatives).

@TLStanleyLA T.L. Stanley is a senior editor at Adweek, where she specializes in consumer trends, cannabis marketing, meat alternatives, pop culture, challenger brands and creativity.