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Every Burger King in the country will have meatless Whoppers by the end of the year

The alternative meat movement is having a watershed moment.

A cross section of an Impossible Burger against a jazzy purple background.
A cross-section of an Impossible Burger.
Sarah Lawrence for Vox
Sigal Samuel is a senior reporter for Vox’s Future Perfect and co-host of the Future Perfect podcast. She writes primarily about the future of consciousness, tracking advances in artificial intelligence and neuroscience and their staggering ethical implications. Before joining Vox, Sigal was the religion editor at the Atlantic.

If you’ve been hankering to try one of the cutting-edge meatless burgers people are talking about but haven’t been able to get your hands on one yet, you’re in luck: Burger King’s Impossible Whopper — a patty made with 0 percent meat — will soon be available nationwide.

It’s been barely a month since the fast-food chain announced it was giving the new Impossible Whopper a trial run in 59 restaurants in the St. Louis area. Already, the results are so promising that Burger King now plans to make the product available in all its 7,200 branches across the US by the end of this year.

“The Impossible Whopper test in St. Louis went exceedingly well and as a result there are plans to extend testing into additional markets in the very near future,” the company said in a statement. “Burger King restaurants in St. Louis are showing encouraging results and Impossible Whopper sales are complementing traditional Whopper purchases.”

The beefless burger is a partnership with the startup company Impossible Foods, which supplies patties made with heme, a protein cultivated from soybean roots that mimics the texture of meat.

The plan for nationwide distribution is further evidence of plant-based meat going mainstream — a huge deal for those who want to see meat alternatives replace actual meat because of concerns over animal cruelty or climate change. If this keeps scaling up, it could help save hundreds of thousands of animals from suffering on factory farms, and it could fight global warming by reducing the number of methane-producing cattle. It could also combat other problems related to our factory-farming system, like antibiotic resistance.

Burger King’s announcement caps a month of incredible growth for the alternative meat movement. Earlier this month, Del Taco announced it’s partnering with Beyond Meat to offer new meatless tacos. And Qdoba announced that all 730 of its locations will offer Impossible Foods’ plant-based meat alternative.

These companies are following in the footsteps of early adopters like White Castle, which sells a slider version of the patty produced by Impossible Foods, and Carl’s Jr., which offers a veggie burger made by Beyond Meat.

It may seem counterintuitive for meat-focused chains to get in on the alternative meat movement. But it’s just good business sense. Consumers are increasingly seeking out meat alternatives, and if a chain can provide alternatives that are both delicious and cheap — the Impossible Whopper costs $1 more than a regular burger — it stands to turn a big profit.

Startups like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods want to team up with these chains because they can introduce plant-based meat to a wide consumer base. In fact, it increasingly feels like there’s a race on, with startups bent on going mainstream trying to get picked up by the big chains as fast as possible.

“Definitely there’s a sense that there’s a movement going on that’s much bigger than any one company,” Ethan Brown, the founder and CEO of Beyond Meat, recently told me. “I think competition is good — it helps to grow awareness of the sector.”

That competition is playing out internationally. In Canada, A&W began offering a “Beyond Burger” last year (it was a hit), and more recently, Quesada became the first Mexican chain to offer the “Beyond Meat Burrito.” In Europe, McDonald’s has released the McVegan burger and vegan McNuggets. But so far, the company has been a lot more resistant to changing its US menus. A petition asking McDonald’s to add a meatless option in the US has garnered almost 200,000 signatures.

Listen to this

Tamar Haspel, a food-policy columnist at the Washington Post, joins Sean Rameswaram to discuss the rise — and potential impact — of the meatless meat movement.

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