Fast Food

‘CEO of Burger King owner: ‘We are all in’ on plant-based foods’

Brian Sozzi for Yahoo! Finance:

“I think it’s just the beginning. It’s a brand new category, it’s a category we are leading not just in the U.S. but globally,” Cil told Yahoo Finance fresh off the company’s fourth quarter earnings call Monday. “And we think there is a lot of work to do still in terms of raising awareness, what are the benefits of it and then being able to offer some different products as well as occasions so that the consumer could expand their knowledge of the product. We are all in.” […]

Meanwhile, Burger King’s fourth quarter same-store sales rose 2.8%. Same-store sales for the chain rose 0.6% in the U.S. and 4.7% in the rest of the world. Burger King’s same-store sales increased 4.8% in the third quarter.

If you have a fast food chain and aren’t copying this, you’re losing free money.

‘Impossible Foods Debuts Its First Plant-Based Pork Products’

Deena Shanker for Bloomberg:

Impossible Foods Inc., maker of the eponymous “bleeding” soy-based burger, is debuting two faux-meat products at CES in Las Vegas: Impossible Pork and Impossible Sausage, ramping up the rivalry with Beyond Meat Inc.

Impossible, based in Silicon Valley, plans to give away about 25,000 samples at the consumer electronics show this week, and its sausage will be rolled out starting in late January at 139 Burger King locations in five test markets.

Hello, Asia and the morning breakfast community!

I’m not surprised that pork was the next product. It’s similar to beef in certain ways. Nothing happens easily though and I assuming making this product wasn’t a stroll through the park, but I’d bet it was much easier to make than beef was initially.

With the Impossible burger, it debuted in very select restaurants across the America. It’s fascinating that in America for their pork product, they’re opening with a limited amount of Burger King locations.

I’m still hoping we’ll see a fish replacement in the next year or two. But that’s nothing like beef or pork.

‘What can Twitter tell us about our neighborhood’s health?’

H. Claire Brown for the New Food Economy:

Those connections yielded a finding the researchers called “intriguing”: Higher-income neighborhoods—defined in this study as the proportion of people making more than $75,000 a year—tended to tweet less positively about food, whether healthy or unhealthy.

Tweets from lower-income neighborhoods—those where a higher proportion of people made less than $75,000 a year—tended to show something different. “A lot of people like to talk about food and have strong opinions about food,” Vydiswaran says. This led to a new hypothesis to explore, that “food may be an isolated source of enjoyment in otherwise difficult lives.”

The researchers also made a curious discovery: Neighborhoods with more young people were less likely to tweet positively about unhealthy foods. This seemingly counterintuitive finding could auger well for future research.

‘Vegan Man Sues Burger King, Claiming It Cooks Impossible Whopper Next to Meat’

Abdi Latif Dahir for the NYTimes:

Burger King’s beef-free Whopper may not be so meatless after all — at least according to one vegan customer.

That’s the argument being made in a lawsuit filed on Monday in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, in which the plaintiff, Phillip Williams, claims that the fast food chain failed to disclose that its plant-based Impossible Whoppers are cooked on the same grills as beef products.

I’m not sure what the end goal is here. If it’s for clearer labeling, I’m with it. If it’s for Burger King to have to install separate broilers for cooking the Impossible, I’m not.

Veganism is about the larger end-goal of saving lives. And most kitchens don’t have room for vegan and non-vegan grills. If lawsuits like this make chains less likely to carry vegan options, more animals will be harmed — and that’s incredibly disappointing.

‘Why are people malnourished in the richest country on earth?’

Tracie McMillan writes a thoughtful and difficult piece for National Geographic:

Chances are good that if you picture what hunger looks like, you don’t summon an image of someone like Christina Dreier: white, married, clothed, and housed, even a bit overweight. The image of hunger in America today differs markedly from Depression-era images of the gaunt-faced unemployed scavenging for food on urban streets. […]

In the United States more than half of hungry households are white, and two-thirds of those with children have at least one working adult—typically in a full-time job. With this new image comes a new lexicon: In 2006 the U.S. government replaced “hunger” with the term “food insecure” to describe any household where, sometime during the previous year, people didn’t have enough food to eat. By whatever name, the number of people going hungry has grown dramatically in the U.S., increasing to 48 million by 2012—a fivefold jump since the late 1960s, including an increase of 57 percent since the late 1990s.

And these numbers will keep growing as the divide between the poor and the wealthy grows wider.

It can be tempting to ask families receiving food assistance, If you’re really hungry, then how can you be—as many of them are—overweight? The answer is “this paradox that hunger and obesity are two sides of the same coin,” says Melissa Boteach, vice president of the Poverty and Prosperity Program of the Center for American Progress, “people making trade-offs between food that’s filling but not nutritious and may actually contribute to obesity.”

It’s terrible that obesity would be an indicator of hunger or malnourishment. It could be a different picture if the government would subsidize the right things. This part, with emphasis mine, speaks to that:

These are the very crops that end up on Christina Dreier’s kitchen table in the form of hot dogs made of corn-raised beef, Mountain Dew sweetened with corn syrup, and chicken nuggets fried in soybean oil. They’re also the foods that the U.S. government supports the most. In 2012 it spent roughly $11 billion to subsidize and insure commodity crops like corn and soy, with Iowa among the states receiving the highest subsidies. The government spends much less to bolster the production of the fruits and vegetables its own nutrition guidelines say should make up half the food on our plates. In 2011 it spent only $1.6 billion to subsidize and insure “specialty crops”—the bureaucratic term for fruits and vegetables.

The USA needs to subsidize produce with a focus on health. Every dollar that goes against that is a dollar squandered, and it’s easy to see this in our population. The government is the reason fast food is cheaper than vegetables. The general health of the people should be considered our government’s problem, because it starts with what crops they subsidize.

‘Impossible Whopper drives 5% of Burger King’s Q3 US comp sales’

The Impossible Whopper drove 5% of Burger King’s comparable sales in the U.S. during the third quarter, the brand’s strongest growth since 2015, according to an earnings release. The Impossible Whopper was one of the most successful rollouts in Burger King’s history, Restaurant Brands International CEO Jose Cil told investors during an October earnings call.

Sales were highly incremental and attracted new types of guests, he said. While it attracted millennials and Gen Z consumers that appreciated the product’s sustainability, older generations such as Gen Xers that hadn’t visited the chain in a while returned to try the Impossible Whopper.

Cil said the launch provided great momentum, and that the company expects continued growth as adoption of plant-based items increases. He believes the company has a strong plant-based platform and looks forward to expanding it outside the U.S. The chain has already brought plant-based beef and chicken offerings to Sweden. Burger King is also considering expanding plant-based into Latin America and Asia, he said.

I can’t imagine owning a chain of restaurants, seeing these numbers, and *not* adding plant-based items to your menu. It’s free money at this point. New customers, new old customers, and new things on the menu. Adding plant-based foods is like a restaurant cheat code at this point.

‘Can a Burger Help Solve Climate Change?’

Tad Friend writing a behemoth of a feature for the New Yorker on vegan burgers (specifically Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat), the technology behind it, and our world as it chomps down burgers. This is easily the most comprehensive piece I’ve read on any vegan food. There is a lot to comb through. Everything in bold is mine and done for emphasis. It opens with a bang:

Cows are easy to love. Their eyes are a liquid brown, their noses inquisitive, their udders homely; small children thrill to their moo.

Most people like them even better dead. Americans eat three hamburgers a week, so serving beef at your cookout is as patriotic as buying a gun. When progressive Democrats proposed a Green New Deal, earlier this year, leading Republicans labelled it a plot to “take away your hamburgers.” The former Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka characterized this plunder as “what Stalin dreamt about,” and Trump himself accused the Green New Deal of proposing to “permanently eliminate” cows. In fact, of course, its authors were merely advocating a sensible reduction in meat eating. Who would want to take away your hamburgers and eliminate cows?

Well, Pat Brown does, and pronto.

It’s going to be interesting in 20 years when we look back on this societal shift and here it call inevitable. Pat Brown’s language in this piece is revealing. It feels much more assertive and direct than Ethan Brown of Beyond Meat and Josh Tetrick of JUST, Inc. Pat’s language is practically confrontational.

Meat is essentially a huge check written against the depleted funds of our environment. Agriculture consumes more freshwater than any other human activity, and nearly a third of that water is devoted to raising livestock. One-third of the world’s arable land is used to grow feed for livestock, which are responsible for 14.5 per cent of global greenhouse-gas emissions. Razing forests to graze cattle—an area larger than South America has been cleared in the past quarter century—turns a carbon sink into a carbon spigot.


Every four pounds of beef you eat contributes to as much global warming as flying from New York to London—and the average American eats that much each month.


“Legal economic sabotage!” Brown said. He understood that the facts didn’t compel people as strongly as their craving for meat, and that shame was counterproductive. So he’d use the power of the free market to disseminate a better, cheaper replacement. And, because sixty per cent of America’s beef gets ground up, he’d start with burgers.

There were lots of things that were news to me. I hadn’t realized that 60% of America’s beef is ground up. Any product broken down and synthesized like that is firmly in the crosshairs of veganism. It means that product is a blend or processed in some capacity — and, so far, plant-based products have made massive leaps specifically in these areas recently.

And then it becomes essentially vegan pornography, and will likely be the inspiration to the next Willy Wonka sequel:

Brown assembled a team of scientists, who approached simulating a hamburger as if it were the Apollo program. They made their burger sustainable: the Impossible Burger requires eighty-seven per cent less water and ninety-six per cent less land than a cowburger, and its production generates eighty-nine per cent less G.H.G. emissions. They made it nutritionally equal to or superior to beef. And they made it look, smell, and taste very different from the customary veggie replacement. 


[I]n taste tests, half the respondents can’t distinguish Impossible’s patty from a Safeway burger.

Buckle up, this next section has Glenn Beck.

Ninety-five per cent of those who buy the Impossible Burger are meat-eaters. The radio host Glenn Beck, who breeds cattle when he’s not leading the “They’re taking away your hamburgers!” caucus, recently tried the Impossible Burger on his show, in a blind taste test against a beef burger—and guessed wrong. “That is insane!” he marvelled. “I could go vegan!”

There ya go. I feel like every Impossible commercial should just be ranchers who can’t tell the difference. Like the Coke vs. Pepsi challenge but for protein.

“We plan to take a double-digit portion of the beef market within five years, and then we can push that industry, which is fragile and has low margins, into a death spiral,” he said. “Then we can just point to the pork industry and the chicken industry and say ‘You’re next!’ and they’ll go bankrupt even faster.”

It’s true. From here on out, the margins for plant-based protein can only become more affordable.

Mike Selden, the co-founder and C.E.O. of Finless Foods, a startup working on cell-based bluefin tuna, said, “Pat and Impossible made it seem like there’s a real industry here. He stopped using the words ‘vegan’ and ‘vegetarian’ and set the rules for the industry: ‘If our product can’t compete on regular metrics like taste, price, convenience, and nutrition, then all we’re doing is virtue signalling for rich people.’ And he incorporated biotechnology in a way that’s interesting to meat-eaters—Pat made alternative meat sexy.”

In time, I think people will forget that what brought most people into veganism or eating vegan foods was the re-labeling of vegan products as plant-based. The stigma around the v-word made it inescapable, but this gave flexible folks another-nother alternative.

Brown doesn’t care that plant-based meat amounts to less than 0.1 per cent of the $1.7-trillion global market for meat, fish, and dairy, or that meat contributes to the livelihoods of some 1.3 billion people. His motto, enshrined on the wall of Impossible’s office, is “Blast ahead!” During the six months that I was reporting this story, the company’s head count grew sixty per cent, to five hundred and fifty-two, and its total funding nearly doubled, to more than seven hundred and fifty million dollars. Brown laid out the math: to meet his 2035 goal, Impossible just has to double its production every year, on average, for the next 14.87 years. This means that it has to scale up more than thirty thousandfold. When I observed that no company has ever grown anywhere near that fast for that long, he shrugged and said, “We will be the most impactful company in the history of the world.”

Obviously, this is insane — but I love the insanity.

For another thing, meat is wildly inefficient. Because cattle use their feed not only to grow muscle but also to grow bones and a tail and to trot around and to think their mysterious thoughts, their energy-conversion efficiency—the number of calories their meat contains compared with the number they take in to make it—is a woeful one per cent.

Has anyone else seen this written anywhere else? That 1% claim would be a deal and I’ve never heard it said anywhere else.

“Another advantage we have over the incumbent technology is that we keep improving our product every week. The cow can’t.”

This is possibly the most interesting part of this article. I’m interested in seeing what they think are improvements over time. I remember years ago reading an article about scientists working on Doritos to find the perfect satiation point where people wanted more but also couldn’t burn out. Same thing I’d heard for sodas. Engineering is great to a certain point, but has its limits and a certain cultural stigma. I’ll be very interested to see how all of these companies navigate language and understanding of what it means to “engineer” food.

Brown remains mystified, for instance, by Americans’ eagerness to add protein to their diets when they already consume far more than is necessary. Nonetheless, he beefed up the protein in his burgers. “There are things we do that are effectively just acknowledging widespread erroneous beliefs about nutrition,” he said. “For the same reasons, we initially used only non-G.M.O. crops, which was essentially pandering. We’re not trying to win arguments but to achieve the mission.

Brown sees himself as a guide rather than as a micromanager—“I have no idea if the company paid taxes last year. The C.E.O. is supposed to know that, I guess”—but he is determined to retain control. When Google made an early offer to buy the company, he said, he turned it down “in less than five seconds, because we would have just been one of their suite of nifty projects.” And he made it a condition of his deal with Khosla Ventures that Impossible couldn’t be sold without his approval to any of about forty “disallowed companies”—meat producers and agricultural conglomerates.

There is a small contingency of old-school vegan eaters that this is really important too. There’s a nice market in Los Angeles called BESTIES that only carries vegan food made by all-vegan companies. I would assume Impossible already alienated people who shop at places like BESTIES and similarily interested vegans with their heme testing for the FDA. Obviously, it’s a challenging line to walk.

While the Impossible Burger is still trying to match the flavor of beef, in certain respects it’s begun to improve upon the original. Celeste Holz-Schietinger, one of the company’s top scientists, told me, “Our burger is already more savory and umami than beef, and in our next version”—a 3.0 burger will be released in a few months—“we want to increase the buttery flavor and caramelization over real beef.”

This was news to me and I’m already excited for it. It’d be interesting if they made an annual event where they would release their new products like Apple does with the iPhone.

Early on, Brown believed that his burger would be cheaper than ground beef by 2017. His original pitch claimed, in a hand-waving sort of way, that because wheat and soy cost about seven cents a pound, while ground beef cost a dollar-fifty, “plant based alternatives can provide the nutritional equivalent of ground beef at less than 5% of the cost.” But establishing a novel supply chain, particularly for heme, proved expensive. The company has increased its yield of the molecule more than sevenfold in four years, and, Brown said, “we’re no longer agonizing over the impact of heme on our cost.” He now hopes to equal the price of ground beef by 2022.

It’ll happen even sooner if the government stops subsidizing beef. Spending $38 billion annually to subsidize beef and dairy while almost none on vegetables and fruit is an atrocity.

When Impossible meat is equal to or cheaper than the cost of beef, I want it to be the first national vegan holiday. Block parties, grills, neighbors, new friends, old friends. It’ll be one to remember.

‘McDonald’s Picks Beyond for Canada Trial, U.S. Prize Remains’

McDonald’s Corp. has selected Beyond Meat Inc.’s faux-meat patties for a plant-based burger test in Canada. But the real prize will be the fast-food giant’s roughly 14,000 locations in its home market, and that race is still anybody’s game.

One step closer to the USA.

Bloomberg’s Burger Stalker

I needed this when the Impossible shortage was in full swing. Either way, this tracker from Bloomberg is glorious.

‘KFC’s Response to Chicken Sandwich Mania: A Bucket of Vegan ‘Chicken’’

After all the discussion of Popeye’s entering the chicken sandwich game, this was the more interesting story for our future:

Maybe that’s because KFC was too busy rolling out a product that is, in a way, the inverse of Popeyes’ new star: Beyond Fried Chicken, a plant-based fried “poultry” made in partnership with fake-meat startup Beyond Meat. Starting Tuesday, the faux fried chicken will be available from just one location — a KFC in Smyrna, Ga., northwest of Atlanta — in the form of nuggets or boneless wings, as the chain decides whether or not to broaden the test or to release Beyond Fried Chicken nationwide.

This ended up selling out in 5 hours. I’d assume it’ll be nationwide by early next year.