REDWOOD CITY, CA: Impossible Foods is declaring its grocery store rollout a success, and it’s giving credit to always underappreciated grandmas.
After its late September launch, Impossible Burger became the No. 1 single item sold in the meat department at Fairway’s two locations in Manhattan. "In Los Angeles, we have outsold ground beef at Gelson’s Markets, in some of the early reports," said Rachel Soeharto, Impossible’s communications manager. "We were the No. 1 packaged item at Gelson’s."
Until last month, Impossible Foods products were only available in restaurants before its launch in 27 Gelson’s locations in Los Angeles on September 20 and in two Fairway stores in New York City and all 100 Wegmans outlets in seven states less than a week later.
Soeharto explained that Impossible chose to launch in stores on the West Coast because of Gelson’s reputation for having "the best quality meat," adding that the chain has a loyal fan base and placed Impossible meat next to its regular ground beef.
Los Angeles is also the "epicenter" of all food trends, she said.
"We wanted to make sure the folks in southern California got to try the product first and go home and cook with it and understand it and get creative with the recipes they were making with the Impossible Burger," said Soeharto.
Impossible also hosted events in New York and LA for media influencers, using the same strategy it employed for its 2016 launch. At that time, Impossible worked with Momofuku Nishi chef and founder David Chang, who had eliminated the vegan options on his menu, prompting protests. (Impossible Burger is back on his menu).
"As an ode to that, our team wanted to figure out: who is the most influential chef for the home kitchen? And who is the David Chang of grocery stores?" said Soeharto.
The answer was close to the company’s family. For the grocery store launch, Impossible paid homage to grandma and the fact that "she always knows best when it comes to cooking," Soeharto noted.
The company teased the idea of cooking with grandma on its social channels and hinted at the cities where it would launch using the hashtags #CookImpossible and #CallYourGrandma.
You say you want Impossible™ in more stores? Well stay tuned tomorrow, because we got a big announcement for you. Get ready to #CallYourGrandma, and get that secret family recipe she's been keeping to herself. #CookImpossible https://t.co/HEW2vWFTWe pic.twitter.com/H2SIzeOaLs— Impossible Foods (@ImpossibleFoods) September 24, 2019
Staying on-theme, Impossible built an over-the-top grandma’s house in a private cabana at Westfield Century City Mall in Los Angeles as a backdrop for retail launch activities. It recruited a high-profile grandma, Chrissy Teigen’s mom, also known as Pepper Thai, for a cooking demo with media and influencers.
Joined on stage by 20 grandmothers, Pepper Thai cooked Thai larb and talked about the versatility of the meat for the home kitchen. Her family, including Chrissy Teigen, singer John Legend and their kids also appeared.
More than 150 members of the media and influencers attended, including web personality Hannah Hart, Kristen Doute from Bravo’s Vanderpump Rules, designer and host Megan Batoon, YouTube star Cammi Scott and Viner Jessi Smiles.
Last night at Impossible™ Grandma's House we ate (and partied) a lot to celebrate our in store launch at @gelsonsmarkets. Head over to the Westfield Century City today for more food, and more surprises. #CallYourGrandma #CookImpossiblehttps://t.co/wxR8qsAzFI pic.twitter.com/jWPzgJqIjg— Impossible Foods (@ImpossibleFoods) September 20, 2019
Impossible Foods does not pay influencers. "We work closely with partners on co-creating content and making sure we pay for the food and all those services, but we don’t pay influencers to post about us or do promotion," said Soeharto. "For [Pepper Thai], we worked with her on catering services and co-creating the recipe, but we did not pay her for her appearance. It was more co-creating content."
The following week in New York, Impossible had celebrity chef Paul Barbosa give a cooking class to influencers.
"We are planning to do more cooking classes and getting people in a kitchen and helping them to understand that it cooks like ground beef, but it is plant-based," said Soeharto. "We will also announce additional retailers in the near future. Our goal is to be everywhere in retail in major markets by mid-next year."
Last month, Impossible also started a section on its website to promote recipes from its own culinary team and encouraged fans to share their own recipes. "We haven’t done that before because we have only been in food service until now," said Soeharto.
More than 3,000 articles have been written about Impossible’s grocery store launch, including in USA Today, the Los Angeles Times and the New York Post. Hits from the activation included The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Parade (twice), as well as a prominent BuzzFeed Tasty Instagram story and People. The launch also crossed the pond, with coverage from the Daily Mail.
Sentiment was 100% positive or neutral, according to Impossible’s data. "We have been super happy with the press coverage," said Soeharto. "It is unlocking these stories and experiences for people."
Previously, Impossible gave its products to media outlets to test, but it was not as widely available.
"Now, people can just access it at the local grocery store," Soeharto said. "We are excited to see where that goes."
Allison+Partners has been the company’s PR partner since it launched two and a half years ago. At that point, it was only available in 100 restaurants; today, the plant-based burger can be ordered in more than 17,000 worldwide.
"The challenge now becomes: how do we continue to innovate from launch to launch to keep media interested and intrigued?" said Emily Wilson-Sayer, EVP at Allison+Partners. "As we continue to grow and expand, it is how to create intrigue from moment to moment and keep the results coming."
Editor's note: This story was updated on October 4 to correct the attendees of events in Los Angles and New York.