The GMO-containing burger's future in New York is as murky — and scarce — as its present
The article below says that the GMO-containing Impossible Burger, even after it arrived with much hype, is hard to find in New York City. Possible reasons suggested in the article include that the burger is expensive and can't compete with cheaper options; that the company that makes it, Impossible Foods, is having problems keeping up with demand; and that people don't see any reason to buy it when plant-based veggie burgers with everyday ingredients are commonly available.
It's also just possible that NYC restaurant owners and/or customers are growing wary of the GMO status of the product.
Why the overhyped Impossible Burger won’t survive in NYC
By Steve Cuozzo
New York Post, 4 Jun 2019
The Impossible Burger — a plant-based patty that does its best to look, taste and “bleed” like real beef — is this year’s It food craze. Celebs including Katy Perry and Jay-Z chipped into a recent $300 million funding. Burger King says it will offer an Impossible Whopper at every one of its 7,200 US stores by year’s end. Breathless write-ups call it “a wake-up call to the meat industry” that’s “taking America by storm.”
But that storm’s more of a drizzle in New York, where you’ll find much more hype than heme. (If you’re emerging from a three-year coma, know that heme is a protein released when a substance called soy leghemoglobin is synthesized in a lab from genetically modified yeast. In English, it’s the magical ingredient that makes Impossible Burgers so “beefy.”)
Let’s back up quickly to the Imp’s 2016 unveiling by the Redwood City, Calif.-based company Impossible Foods. Back then, it struck me as a clever stunt but hardly worth its $80 million research cost, with little beef flavor or mouthfeel. But the patty still made a splash thanks to a dramatic cooking demonstration by David Chang, in which the chef conjured the solid burger out of liquids before an adoring audience.
Chang put it on his Momofuku Nishi menu. A few other restaurants followed suit. Then, in January, Impossible Foods retooled the burger’s formula. The new burger has 30% less sodium and 40% less saturated fat. Soy protein replaced wheat protein for a meatier texture and to make the patty suitable for cooking by methods other than on a flattop grill. The Impossible Whopper news hit, and the crowds went wild.
Is it really a new and improved burger? The one I bumped into a few weeks ago at the Setai resort in Miami Beach, Fla., still reminded me of balsa wood. Back in New York, at Lucky’s, the $12 patty was as bad as the one I suffered in Miami.
But properly cooked, the 2.0 version does a helluva job mimicking the flavor, texture, aroma and the “bleed” of beef. The ones I had at several Manhattan Bareburger outlets were so convincing that I wondered the first time if they’d given me beef by mistake.
The Impossible at Chang’s Momofuku Nishi ($21) was even better. Saltier than Bareburger’s, it was appealingly pink in the center and achieved true burger bliss when I made my way through the bogus beef and a gooey cheese slice to a crispy pickle tucked in the bun.
But the Impossible’s future in New York is as murky — and scarce — as its present.
At Nishi, the plant patty is now available only on request. “We’re phasing them out because David doesn’t think it’s special anymore,” an employee tells me. (A Momofuku rep says that employee was mistaken on both counts and “Nishi will continue to offer it as an off-menu item indefinitely.”)
Other famous chefs have yet to get on board the Impossible train. Bobby Flay told CNBC last month that he had no plans to sell the Impossible at his restaurants partly because it’s so expensive compared to beef: “The Impossible would be about three times the cost to us... obviously we’d have to pass that along to our customers.”
Elsewhere around town, the Imp’s as elusive as a rent-controlled duplex with 24-hour doormen and a rooftop pool. Saxon + Parole on the Bowery just got a shipment after being “out of it for three weeks,” an employee said.
Most of the chains that say they have it didn’t. Umami Burger at Brookfield Place in Battery Park City and several local White Castles were “temporarily” out of it when I visited. Same for Applebee’s, where a manager claimed, “We can’t get any because they’re sending them all to Burger King.”
Baloney: The Impossible Whopper so far is only in St. Louis and a handful of smaller cities. But his theory reflected cloak-and-dagger speculation that’s partly fueled by Impossible Foods’ confusing statements.
The company told The Post that it can’t estimate the number of Impossible outlets in New York: “We sell directly to distributors, not to individual restaurants.” Yet the company simultaneously claims it’s available at “about 8,000” spots around the country. Its online locator map variously seemed to show hundreds of places in the city to buy them when I checked it over several hours — but a second click found many of those to be hundreds of miles away.
Mark Pastore is president of Pat LaFrieda Meat, the Imp’s first New York-area distributor. “They have run out of supply,” he says. “Either they can’t get their act together, or they underestimated demand, or they can’t keep up their production.”
When the burger first launched, “We loved it,” he says. But even then, they accounted for a mere 1 to 2% of the $100 million-plus worth of burgers that LaFrieda sells annually.
Now, “We haven’t gotten any from them in two months,” Pastore said. “We have an open order with them, but they say they just can’t get it to the East Coast.”
The company says it knows it’s had a problem but is “working 24/7” to meet demand. It added employees and work shifts at its Oakland, Calif., plant and hired a senior executive with “extensive manufacturing experience” to help churn out the heme.
But should we New Yorkers really care that it’s nearly impossible to find in a city that already has enough veggie burgers of every composition and price? When we have to ask “Where’s the heme?” it’s time to go back to beans, beets or even — here’s a radical thought — beef.