In Largest Plant-Based Partnership Yet, Starbucks Launches Impossible Breakfast Sandwich

Faux-meat product will be in 15,000-plus Starbucks locations

The new Starbucks offering highlights a hot trend of fake pork products. Starbucks
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Starbucks, with the ubiquitous footprint of its 15,000-plus locations, becomes the latest chain to jump into the faux-meat space with a plant-based breakfast sandwich.

The coffee behemoth, with about 95% of its company-operated stores now open post-quarantine, is the largest player to date to partner with Silicon Valley-based Impossible Foods.

The new product, launching today, also expands the reach of fake sausage, which is shaping up to be this year’s version of the meatless burger, a runaway hit at fast food venues in 2019.

Starbucks rolls out the Impossible Breakfast Sandwich to “meet the growing consumer interest in plant-based options,” said Michael Kobori, chief sustainability officer, noting that the chain’s dive into the plant-based world started in the late ’90s with soy milk and continued more recently with the addition of faux dairy items like coconut, almond and oat milk. The company will continue to bulk up its plant-based offerings “as an environmentally friendly menu contributes to our goal to be a resource positive company.”

The deal is “wildly significant,” says Jessica Appelgren, vp of communications for Impossible Foods. “Our quest is to be everywhere that meat is sold, and it’s hard to get more ‘everywhere’ than Starbucks.”

Impossible’s founder and CEO Patrick O. Brown called the alliance “a new benchmark for large corporations.”

It’s not the only fast food breakfast sandwich with an Impossible twist.

The brand and Burger King recently announced the national debut of the Impossible Croissan’wich after a successful five-market test. The product followed the same path as the Impossible Whopper before it, with that burger item cited as a significant traffic driver at the fast food giant.

Major competitor Beyond Meat, meantime, has also amped up its sausage game in the breakfast battleground with the Beyond Meat Sausage Sandwich at Dunkin’s 8,500 stores. The late 2019 menu item is credited with helping boost same-store sales by 2.8% in fourth quarter, the chain’s highest level in six years. The sandwich brought in new customers and increased average check size—with orders featuring the product averaging more than $9—according to Restaurant Business Online.

The overall trend toward meat alternatives, propelled largely by flexitarians, has accelerated this year, with triple digit increases in retail sales of brands like Impossible, Beyond Meat, Morningstar Farms, Lightlife and Dr. Praeger’s during the public health crisis caused by Covid-19. Restaurant volume sank, per mandated physical closures, but grocery stores, specialty shops and new DTC channels made up some of those losses and kept the momentum going.

Nonprofit group Good Food Institute has predicted that pork and beef sausage alternatives will make up the next wave of faux meat demand because they’re versatile products that work “in a variety of segments, dayparts and food categories.”

Starbucks plans to promote the Impossible Breakfast Sandwich, made with a cage-free fried egg and cheddar cheese on ciabatta bread, with point-of-sale materials and other in-store real estate. The chain also adds two new drinks this week, as it often does seasonally, that are both cold brew concoctions that feature almond milk foam. 

The brand is in the midst of some retooling, honing in on its pickup and delivery services in urban areas and “convenience-led enhancements” like curbside, drive-thru and walk-up windows in suburban locations. Like retail in nearly every category, Starbucks saw revenues plunge during quarantine, and executives have said they’re focused on preparing for a post-pandemic world.

@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.