It’s been about seven weeks since White Castle rolled out its Impossible Burger slider test in three markets – New York, New Jersey and Chicago – representing 140 of the company’s 385 total restaurants.
White Castle's Impossible Slider test is in its seventh week in the Chicago, New York and New Jersey markets.
Though the company would not disclose specific numbers, VP Jamie Richardson said the test is going “exceedingly well.”
“The customers are enthusiastic. Sales have exceeded expectations and some restaurants are selling as many of 300 of these sliders a day,” he said. He wouldn’t specify how 300 compares to typical slider sales other than calling it a “home run.”
“At this point of the test, we’re seeing encouraging signs that this is a good idea that has a lot of potential,” Richardson said.
The three initial markets were picked because they’re large and should therefore provide plenty of insight on consumer preferences and operational efficiencies. Richardson said it’s still too early for the company to know what it’s doing next – if anything – with the new menu item. What it’s not too early to know is that the plant-based burger is winning over a rabid, slider-obsessed fan base.
More importantly, these Impossible Sliders are winning over these so-called Cravers despite their significantly higher price tag – $1.99 versus about 90 cents for a typical cheese slider.
“What we’re really pleased with so far is that the enthusiasm has remained pretty constant. This illustrates that we’re not just getting first-time purchasers. There is a curiosity factor that gets customers here, which makes sense since it’s a plant-based protein that looks and tastes like beef. People are going to be curious about it. What we’re seeing is that they’re gratified enough to keep coming back,” Richardson said.
Because of this, he believes plant-based proteins have a chance of becoming a fast food staple, alongside not only sliders but perhaps even Whoppers or Big Macs.
“When we think about the customers of tomorrow, the younger generations, they have a lot more desire to seek variety and to really focus on quality and sustainability. There’s been a natural evolution of taste,” Richardson said. “We can try all we want to control the customer taste. It never works. Customers are going to tell us what they want. There is a lot going on in this (plant-based) space that seems to be captivating to customers and I think it could emerge as something really relevant.”
The plant-based food category grew 8.1% last year and surpassed $3.1 billion in sales. Plant-based proteins specifically grew at a rate of 6%. According to some estimates, the plant-based meat market is set to makeup one-third of the market by 2050.
Further, the category’s drivers seem to have staying power. Plant-based proteins fit millennials' demand for more variety to fit their “flexitarian” preferences. Consumers are also craving environmental stewardship and are willing to pay more for sustainable products.
Impossible Burger is one of the leaders in this category, expanding to not only White Castle, but also fast casual concepts such as Fatburger, Bareburger, Umami Burger, Chef Michael Symon’s B Spot and Shake Shack. Though White Castle wouldn’t disclose its Impossible Slider sales numbers, Impossible CFO David Lee told Bloomberg that the company’s restaurant customers are seeing double-digit same-store sales growth.
But Impossible’s not alone in the category. Competitor Beyond Meat is available at Whole Foods and Safeway and has also infiltrated the restaurant space at chains such as BurgerFi and Veggie Grill. BurgerFi corporate chef Paul Griffin told Nation’s Restaurant News that the option is “going insane.”
“I don’t think I’ve seen anything change the industry … as much as this plant-based protein.”
The momentum isn’t expected to slow soon. In late 2017, Beyond Meat received an investment from Tyson Foods, which has a deep footprint in the restaurant industry. And, at last month’s National Restaurant Association Show, it was clear that plant-based proteins have moved from niche to noteworthy based on the number of exhibitors in the space. Beyond Meat’s plant-based sausage even won the show’s FABI award, which celebrates the “most creative, marketable and tasty foodservice products.”
Despite the robust activity in the plant-based category, the restaurant industry is still on the ground floor of this movement. But as more – and bigger – players such as White Castle (and, just this week KFC UK) jump in, it shouldn’t take long to move up.
By Alicia Kelso
June 8, 2018
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