Impossible Foods cooks up mainstream ad attack for 2021

Look out America. Here comes the Impossible Burger.

A Super Bowl spot could be on the table as Impossible Foods looks to become a mass market product. We catch up with the plant-based meat brand to hear how we can expect it to be both provocative and pervasive in 2021.

Impossible Foods is preparing to move into a “new era”. Having shored up early adopters, the popular plant-based meat brand is looking to dial up mainstream, mass market awareness next year.

Rachel Konrad, the company’s chief communications officer who previously worked at Tesla, says it is at an inflection point in terms of its product life cycle. “We’re definitely going to be shaking things up.”

To date, the brand has done very little traditional advertising, relying instead on earned media, influencers and high-profile partnerships. Burger King’s Impossible Whopper was a “transformational moment”, says Konrad. It’s also available at Starbucks (Impossible Breakfast Sandwich) and at 10,000 grocery stores in all 50 states, including Walmart, Safeway and Trader Joe’s.

Last week, it made its debut in Canada, marking its second international expansion (Asia was first, with pushes into Hong Kong and Singapore). But this is still only the beginning.

Meat eaters in the crosshairs

There is no shortage of competition in the space. But Konrad doesn’t see Beyond Meat and the rest as the true competition, pitting itself instead against animal meat manufacturers like Cargill, JBS and Tyson. “We cater exclusively to meat lovers – hardcore omnivores who can’t envision life without a juicy burger.”

Impossible has scored high marks in terms of taste and nutrition. As it rolls out its mainstream push, it will lean into another key differentiator: sustainability. “We are torching the planet in order to put more cows on it to satisfy the demand for meat. It’s not sustainable.“

But do meat eaters really care? According to an ongoing, four-year research study conducted by the brand, they do. In 2016, taste and nutrition were the top drivers of consumer purchase. Concern for the environment wasn’t even in the top 10. Today, it is third most important consideration.

Taste, nutrition and sustainability will be the pillars for the brand’s messaging, which Konrad promises will be provocative rather than some “mushy in the middle messaging”. Impossible plans to tap into the fact that people want to be part of a movement – “to be a part of something bigger than themselves”.

‘Capitalism can save the world’

Impossible has a “lean-in agenda”. In other words, it doesn’t slink away from a fight.

When Republicans added “phony burgers” to the growing list of threats to Americans during the Republican National Convention, Impossible was happy to jump into the conversation. “‘Oh, the lefties in the socialist party want to take away your God-given right to eat hamburgers‘. We aren’t going to shy away from that conversation. We have just as high recognition and awareness in red states as blue states. People would be shocked to know that some of our regions with the highest penetration are places like St Louis and Detroit.”

And when slaughterhouses came under fire during the pandemic because of health concerns, Impossible invited news crews into its plants. The contrast between its “clean, mechanized, socially distanced operations” and “leaked disgusting footage where men and women, often from other countries, working shoulder-to-shoulder eviscerating, decapitating, de-boning animals” were a stark contrast says Konrad.

“We are on the brink of a catastrophic biodiversity collapse. Democrats... Republicans... there is no government policy that is helping. We are creating a mainstream, mass market consumer movement. Capitalism can save the world.”

If current sales of fresh, plant-based, meat alternatives are any indication, Konrad may be on to something. According to Nielsen, sales were up 83.5% year-over-year for the calendar year 2019 and escalated to +134% during the pandemic period (from March 1 through August 29).

Impossible Foods co-founder Rachel Konrad

But meat is delicious!

Of course, there’s one big rub: “Meat is a great product. It tastes delicious and it’s versatile. It’s people’s favorite food for a reason, so we set a very high bar for ourselves.”

By many accounts, Impossible has been up to the challenge in terms of taste and ability to cook with the product. Gordon Ramsay added it to his restaurant, as have many other top chefs. The investors are believers too. It has raised $1.5bn from venture capitalists, global investment firms, Katy Perry, Will.i.am, Serena Williams and more.

Now, it is ready to also lean into advertising to grab even greater market share from the meat manufacturers. It is actively testing in-store messaging to see what resonates best. “We test different messages with different populations. So, if you go to Kroger you will see different messages, whether it’s about nutrition, sustainability or versatility. Versatility and convenience are the big ones.”

She notes that its product needs to work just as well in lasagna or shepherd’s pie as beef does, or else consumers won’t bite. “In-store is in the trenches. When they actually go ‘I’ll try that‘ and then they go ‘oh, that was actually pretty good’. That’s where you win.”

As the tests run their course and Impossible eyes its big push in 2021, it is considering agency help to supplement its in-house talent. Currently, creative is led by Giselle Guerrero (formerly of Apple) and by founder and chief exec Pat Brown. “Obviously, to do something as complex as a gigantic ad campaign and media buy, our entire marketing and communications team will be involved plus we will need outside resources, for sure. We have certainly worked with agencies and will continue to do so.”

So, what about a Super Bowl spot to do the heavy lifting? “I’m not ruling out anything,” says Konrad. Sounds like a real threat from the ‘phony burger’.

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