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The Impossible Burger shortage: Why it's hard to find this meat-free burger

Impossible Foods’ new fast-food partnerships are causing a shortage at many of the restaurants where it was first available.

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The Impossible Burger's similarity to real beef garnered it a loyal following among vegans and vegetarians, but now the company is experiencing a burger shortage. 

Mariel Myers/CNET

Impossible Foods is experiencing a shortage of its Impossible Burgers as it attempts to stock thousands of fast-food and chain restaurants nationwide. The company's new growth has led to short supply for many smaller, local and often family-owned restaurants who offered the Impossible Burger before it became so popular. 

If you're not yet familiar with the Impossible Burger -- the eerily meat-like meatless burger -- well, I'd have to guess that you don't go on the Internet much. All jokes aside, this "bloody" vegan hamburger has taken on the food industry with such adoration (albeit a little skepticism) that it's now one of the most widely available meatless meat products. 

The shortage has evoked an outcry from many vegetarian and vegan fans, including Instagram influencers with lots of followers and a large platform on which to share their displeasure. 

What's causing the Impossible Burger shortage?

Behind the shortage is a rather explosive surge in popularity. The burger is on the menu in more than 9,000 restaurants and is a top seller at many of those restaurants. And, since the launch of the Impossible Burger 2.0 in January 2019, the company has seen a 50% jump in revenue,  according to Impossible Food's Vice President of Communications, Jessica Appelgren. 

Another big reason people are having a hard time getting their hands on an Impossible Burger is because the company partnered with multiple national fast-food restaurants and chains, to make the burger available nationwide. The Impossible Burger has even ended up at food stands at stadiums and theme parks.  

These growth spurts come with growing pains -- the new partnerships and increased sales have come at the expense of supply at some of the first restaurants that ever stocked the Impossible Burger. 

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How is the shortage affecting customers?

One CNET reader emailed me saying that the Impossible Burger is "impossible to find" in Sacramento County (California) and that Impossible Foods "left all of the restaurants that got them where they are today without product for their regular customers."

Not too long after I received that email, I noticed that food, fitness and wellness influencers began taking to Instagram to speak out about the lack of availability at their favorite restaurants. 

Emilie Hebert, the vegan blogger and sustainability mastermind behind Emilie Eats, said that while she's happy to see meatless meat become more mainstream nationwide, it's disappointing that smaller, often family-owned, restaurants can't get the supply they need. 

"These restaurants took a chance on carrying a meatless burger when it was not yet the nationwide sensation we see today," Hebert told CNET. "I love that we have a meatless option at large chains, but I wish Impossible Foods had ensured that they would be able to keep the burger in stock at their already participating restaurants before taking on these large contracts."

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Impossible Food's Oakland, CA plant is now running around the clock to keep up with growing demand.

B.HUST/Impossible Foods

What's the company doing to address the shortage?

While the meatless meat shortage is surely dispiriting to many, Impossible Foods is far from oblivious to its disheartened fans or the strain of nationwide demand. 

"We are working our hardest to increase production and are making real strides," Appelgren told CNET. "We recognize the inconvenience that scarcity causes, and sincerely apologize to all customers, particularly those who have come to depend on the additional foot traffic and revenue that the Impossible Burger has generated." 

So what's Impossible doing to reverse the shortage? Since the company started to feel the strain of its new national contracts, it's implemented several changes:

  • The Oakland, California plant now operates around the clock with two 12-hour shifts.
  • The company is increasing headcount at the plant and is now up to 130 employees.
  • The company hired Sheetal Shah, a mobile-phone mogul who's spent the last decade scaling tech companies to unbelievable levels, to advise on new manufacturing practices.
  • The company secured $300 million from investors and will dedicate a large portion of that money to increasing production quickly. 

Appelgren told CNET that in no way is this shortage insurmountable. Rather, "like other successful startups, we are facing short-term ramp-up challenges resulting from demand greatly outstripping supply."

This isn't the company's first foray into supersized production: Back in 2017, Impossible Foods showed its first signs of significant growth when it opened its plant after promising to bring the Impossible Burger to 1,000 restaurants nationwide. They've far surpassed that goal now. 

For now, Appelgren urges Impossible fans to call restaurants ahead of time to ask about current availability and future shipments of the product.