In 2011, the idea of Americans eating plant-based burger “meat” seemed like a longshot. But the creators of the Impossible Burger, a vegan alternative, bet they could win over American palates by engineering a substitute burger that bleeds and sizzles like the real thing.
With nearly $400 million secured in funding, expansion to major chains, and a recent green light from the FDA on its key ingredient soy leghemoglobin, the Impossible Burger has reached mainstream acclaim unlike any alternative meat before it. The response on Yelp matches the growing popularity:
“It’s perfectly textured with a taste that is impossible to decipher as non meat,” said Jonny M. on Yelp.
“If I could make burgers like that, I would not need to eat meat,” said Liana L. on Yelp.
Growing availability of the Impossible Burger, coupled with today’s occasion of World Vegan Day, inspired the Yelp Data Science team to dive deeper into its evolving popularity.
Yelp data reveals that the appetite for the Impossible Burger is exploding, moving beyond coastal metros into the mainstream. The number of times the Impossible Burger has been mentioned on Yelp has more than tripled in the past year alone, calculated as the number of times “Impossible Burger” was referenced in Yelp reviews across the United States.
Yelp data reveals that consumer interest started picking up in mid-2016, following its debut at celebrity chef David Chang’s Momofuku Nishi in New York. As highlighted in the infographic timeline, Yelp reviews mentioning the Impossible Burger have rapidly accelerated since then, driven by 2017 partnerships with major chains (Umami Burger, Bareburger, Hopdoddy). Yelp review mentions have increased even faster in 2018, accompanied by an additional $114 million raised in April and a partnership to feature “Impossible Sliders” at 377 White Castle restaurants in September.
Between 2016 and 2018, the Impossible Burger spread from a few select cities – San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles – to the heartland.
The expansion of the Impossible Burger beyond major metros is highlighted by the fact that San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles accounted for essentially all “Impossible Burger” mentions from reviews at the beginning of 2017. By October of 2018, shares in those metros have dropped to just one in five, driven by increasing consumer appetites for the plant-based burger in other cities in the United States.
In fact, fans of the Impossible burger are most vocal in Royal Oak, MI, home of B Spot Burgers, the first Midwest restaurant to offer the Impossible Burger. Two other Michigan cities, Dearborn (#4) and Windsor (#10), fall in the top 10 regions with the highest mention rate of “Impossible Burger,” calculated as the number of times “Impossible Burger” was referenced in Yelp reviews for a given city, divided by the total words used across the city’s Yelp reviews.
Taken together, Yelp review data reveal booming growth in the mention rate of the “Impossible Burger” over the last two years, suggesting consumers are warming to the brand. Further, growing consumer interest is not restricted to big metros; the Impossible Burger is gaining traction around the country.
Might this be a turning point for wider acceptance of plant-based foods?
Not exactly. The Impossible Burger’s rise seems to be unique; the competing “Beast Burger” and “Beyond Burger,” produced by Beyond Meat, have not demonstrated comparable growth. Yelp data reveals “Impossible Burger” mentions are more than 3 times those of “Beyond Burger” and 16 times those of “Beast Burger” as of October 2018.
The popularity of the Impossible Burger can be credited to its accelerating venture funding, celebrity partnerships with the likes of the Wu Tang Clan, and strategic partnerships with popular chains. Though other alternative meat options have yet to catch up to the Impossible Burger, the U.S. Cattleman’s Association (USCA) has already attempted to restrict the definition of “meat” in anticipation of rising plant-based competition. If you’re intrigued to “find the impossible,” the makers of the Impossible Burger now offer their own restaurant locator to find one near you.
Peter Weir, Carl Bialik, and Liina Potter contributed to this blog post. All visual and interactive materials built by The DataFace.