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Burger King's Impossible Whopper is bad news for small eateries

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Burger King's sellout Impossible Foods' vegan burger will unnerve small, mom-and-pop restaurants that have struggled to get their hands on the popular alternative-meat patties since its launch.

Washington, DC

FOLLOWING a successful test run in St Louis, Burger King announced on Monday that the chain will introduce its Impossible Whopper to more cities this summer, with the goal of adding the popular plant-based burger to menus across the country by the end of the year.

The news should thrill those who tied up phones at the chain's outlets in the Gateway City, trying to have a mock-meat Whopper (or a dozen) shipped to California and other locales across the United States.

But it will probably unnerve small, mom-and-pop restaurants that have struggled to get their hands on Impossible Foods' alternative-meat patties since Burger King launched its new burger this month. At the Ted's Bulletin chain, with five locations around the Washington, DC, region, the Impossible Burger is the fifth-most-popular sandwich on the menu, said Nick Salis, vice-president of operations. The chain sells about 250 a week, he said. But since its Burger King debut, "we've been seeing shortages," Mr Salis said.

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Other area restaurants report similar issues. Ellen Cox, general manager of Quarry House Tavern, the popular dive bar in Silver Spring, Maryland, said, "People are disappointed. Rather than go for the vegan burger that we have now, they opt for the regular burger."

These restaurant managers said the 2.0 version of the Impossible Burger has been a hit with diners, who don't find other alternative-meat options as attractive. "The Impossible Burger feels, tastes and chews as close to a burger as I've seen," said Mr Salis of Ted's Bulletin.

That kind of customer demand has apparently surprised Impossible Foods, which has struggled to keep up with orders.

Impossible Foods chief financial officer David Lee told The Washington Post: "We are straining to meet demand. It's a good problem to have, but it's still a massive amount of growth at once."

Impossible Foods has expanded its reach considerably in recent months. Last year, White Castle introduced an Impossible Slider to its nearly 400 locations nationwide, and this year, Red Robin debuted an Impossible Cheeseburger at its 570 locations.

With the rollout of the Impossible Whopper, the burger could, by year's end, find itself on Burger King menus at 7,200 locations across the country. That's on top of Impossible Foods' smaller customers. (Incidentally, when contacted, a McDonald's spokeswoman said the chain does not have any news to share on a potential vegan burger of its own.)

Mr Lee said Impossible Foods has a 70,000-square-foot facility that executives thought would produce about 1 million pounds of the plant-based meat a year. But now executives expect the facility to crank out between 75 million and 100 million pounds annually, all without expanding the plant's footprint. Impossible Foods, Mr Lee said, is adding more employees and adding more shifts to the facility.

"There will be some short-term dislocations and struggles," he said. "But in the mid- to long-term, this technology was designed to scale up globally." Impossible Foods has been working with all its customers, large and small, to fill orders, Mr Lee said. In some cases, the company has had to foo the bill to ship supplies by air to customers. WP