Impossible Burger Shortage Leaves Local Businesses, Customers Hungry For More

Grindhouse Killer Burgers in Atlanta was one of thousands of restaurants nationwide recently impacted by a shortage of the plant-based burger, the Impossible Burger.

John Haas / WABE

In the kitchen of Grindhouse Killer Burgers on Piedmont Avenue, Kevin Crook stands over a hot grill of sizzling patties.

The burgers are bright pink, and at first glance appear to be raw beef. But, they’re not.

These are Impossible Burgers, made of ingredients like coconut oil and soy protein concentrate.

The patties are plant-based, but unlike your typical veggie burger, they look ⁠— and some say taste ⁠— a lot like meat.

It’s part of a growing trend in the alternative meat market to create meat substitutes that are more realistic.

Brands such as Impossible Burger and the company’s competitor, Beyond Burger, have been marketing their alternative meat products to not only vegans and vegetarians but to meat-eaters as well.

The concept has paid off.

Impossible Foods recently made a deal with the fast-food giant Burger King. They hope to have their burgers in stores nationwide by the end of this year.

The California-based company also reported that it sold a record-breaking amount of product in May, and received $300 million in capital investment.

But this success has also brought about in an unexpected challenge: a nationwide shortage of Impossible Burgers.

Impossible Foods Chief Communications Officer Rachel Konrad said the company is working around the clock, literally, to keep up with demand. But, at the moment, that’s not enough.

Many of the 8,000 restaurants that sell Impossible Burgers nationwide have recently been affected, including Grindhouse Killer Burgers in Atlanta.

As of press time, the restaurant is fully stocked with Impossible Burgers.

However, this May, the Grindhouse received only sporadic shipments of the patties. Founder Alex Brounstein said he could see why the company was struggling to keep up with demand.

“You can’t even overstate how popular they’ve become in such a quick amount of time,” Brounstein said. “Everybody wants to try it once. We thought maybe it was just gonna be a quick trend but it’s just going up and up and up. I think that’s what’s led to this shortage.”

Alex Brounstein, founder of Grindhouse Killer Burgers, stands in front of the Atlanta chain’s Piedmont Avenue location. (Grace Walker/WABE)

It’s a problem Emory University Professor Peter Topping is familiar with.

Topping, a professor of organization and management at the Goizueta Business School, calls it the “paradox of success.”

In the world of business, “success is a double-edged sword,” Topping said. When companies outpace their growth, the product can suffer.

“How could you turn down Burger King? I mean that would be an incredible business line except if you can’t fulfill those orders or if satisfying Burger King takes you away from satisfying the independent restaurants that got you started, who built your customer loyalty,” Topping said. “That could erode their business.”

Konrad, of Impossible Foods, admitted that the publicity from the Burger King deal could have contributed to demand for the burger, and, thus, the shortage.

“The visibility and awareness generated by Burger King really catalyzed a lot of consumer demand,” Konard said.

However, she also said the company is committed to prioritizing small businesses first.

“The numbers just don’t bear it out that we’re specifically siphoning off product from other customers to Burger King. That’s just not true. Because there are so few Burger Kings that are even selling the product right now,” Konard said.

In the meantime, all that matters to Impossible fans like O’Neill Richards is that the burgers come back soon.

As a vegan, he said the burger is one of his favorite lunch options.

“The word is succulent. That’s really where it sets itself apart from vegan burgers and plant-based burgers. Because it’s really very much characteristic of the original taste you have when you sink your teeth into a regular burger,” he said.

It’s worth the wait, for now, he said. But he doesn’t want to wait for long. He said he’s already hungry for more.