The product (SRP $5.99/14oz pack) – rolling out to major chains including Kroger, King Soopers, Safeway, Albertsons, Wegmans, Stop & Shop, Hannaford, Shoprite, and Sprouts – is made with soy protein concentrate as its core ingredient, and contains the firm’s flagship ingredient soy leghemoglobin, a protein that carries the iron-containing molecule ‘heme,’ which Impossible Foods founder Dr Pat Brown argues ”makes meat taste uniquely like meat."
While some critics have queried whether plant-based burgers are better for you than beef burgers, with many containing similar levels of saturated fat, for example, the nutrition credentials of plant-based sausage compare more favorably with their pork-based counterparts, with the Impossible Sausage (when cooked) containing 30% fewer calories, 47% less total fat, 43% less saturated fat, and zero cholesterol compared to the leading pork ground sausage, according to Impossible Foods.
Like the Impossible Burger, the Impossible Sausage also contains iron, vitamins, and minerals, including 50% of the DV for vitamin B12, a nutrient of particular importance for vegan and vegetarians.
‘The [plant-based] ground sausage category is ripe for disruption’
While the company may launch multiple formats and pack sizes for any given product (it now has a 12oz brick, an 8oz two-burger pack, and a six-burger frozen pack for its flagship Impossible Burger at retail) it made sense to debut in sausage with a ground product because it’s the most versatile, Michael Bortinger, senior manager, retail marketing at Impossible Foods told FoodNavigator-USA.
“The [plant-based] ground sausage category is ripe for disruption, there really isn’t a solid offering in this format in the category right now in plant based, and it’s a highly versatile option that allows the consumer to eat it for breakfast, for lunch and for dinner. So that's where we're excited to kind of get into this format, right out of the gates, as we look at the full pipeline of sausage offerings.”
He added: “Right now, plant-based products account for something like 0.25% of the total ground sausage category, whereas for link sausage, I think it's closer to 3%, so we think we’ve found some whitespace and that's why so many retailers are excited to start carrying the product.”
US retail sales of plant-based meat rose 13.2% to $1.409bnin the 52 weeks to July 11, 2021, according to new data from Chicago-based SPINS.
Frozen sales were up 9.54% to $823.9m, while refrigerated sales were up 18.85% to $585.5m over the same period.
All key subcategories are growing, with the exception of frozen grounds and refrigerated loaves and roasts. Picture credit: Getty Images/pixsooz
Impossible Foods products, some of the most productive in the category?
On a more practical level, he claimed, Impossible Foods’ products are more productive on shelf than many other brands in retailers’ emerging dedicated plant-based sets in the meat case, which makes them an attractive proposition for buyers looking at metrics such as turns and profit.
“Our 12oz brick has been a top item [in the set] on a productivity basis, so they know we generate a lot of traction and traffic, but we want to work with each retail partner to make sure what we have is optimized for their shoppers given the limited real estate.
“But with so many plant-based offerings, they do look at productivity, and we're really excited with our results on the burger items, and I think that's why so many retailers are jumping on our ground sausage… that velocity is highly attractive to them.”
Asked about supporting the products in-store, he said: “We have a strong couponing and promotion plan in-store signage to make sure consumers can find it in stores, and then as more opportunities present themselves, we're going to expand that toolkit for trial… And then we’ll continue to do awareness-generating activities with media partners, and our own marketing assets.”
Ingredients (savory): Water, soy protein concentrate, sunflower oil, coconut oil, 2% or less of methylcellulose, yeast extract, salt, natural flavors, cultured dextrose, spices, modified starch, onion powder, garlic powder, citric acid, soy leghemoglobin, mixed tocopherols, soy protein isolate, zinc, vitamin B3, B6, B2, B12
Nutrition (savory) per 56g serving: 130 calories, 7g protein, 1g fiber, 9g total fat, 4g sat fat, 380mg sodium. 50% DV for vitamin B12, 8% DV for iron, 25% DV for zinc, 10% DV for folate, 10% DV for vitamin B6, 15% DV for Riboflavin, 25% DV for B3 (Niacin).
This amounts to 30% fewer calories, 47% less total fat, 43% less saturated fat when cooked, and zero cholesterol, compared to the leading pork ground sausage, according to Impossible Foods.
Plant-based meat category dynamics: ‘There is ongoing pruning going on right now’
So how do retailers see the plant-based meat category, and is there going to be a shakeout as me-too products and underperforming brands and SKUs are ditched?
“The category continues to evolve,” said Bortinger, who joined Impossible Foods in summer 2020 after a short stint at Manitoba Harvest and several years at General Mills in a variety of roles.
“There is ongoing pruning going on right now. A lot of things are going in and coming out, some work, some don't. But everything we’ve brought to market in retail so far has been wildly well received by consumers, and the productivity that shows in the data reflects that.”
'When the consumer is in the meat buying mindset, they can see us right next to the traditional animal meat options…’
When it comes to merchandising, he said, “From what we've seen, it makes the most sense to stock plant-based products where the shopper is looking for meat, so within that set or adjacent to it, so when the consumer is in the meat buying mindset, they can see us right next to the traditional animal meat options.”
While every brand wants more space on shelf, he said, visibility is important in an emerging category, especially in the meat case: “In certain stores you'll see our 12oz brick faced several times to make sure that there's enough product on shelf to service consumers but also to breakthrough on shelf amid a sea of animal-based proteins. We want to pop out and make sure the consumer can find us easily.”
‘This is going to be one of the most competitively priced items out of the gates in our portfolio versus the animal analog’
Asked about pricing, he said, “We’ve continued to make our products more affordable, and this is one of our most competitively priced items.
“So, on a per pound basis, we're in the range of, I think a x1.5 to x1.8 multiple, so this is going to be one of the most competitively priced items out of the gates in our portfolio versus the animal analog.”
Messaging: ‘First and foremost, we’re talking about taste’
As for messaging and support for retailers, both in store and online, he said, “We always make sure, especially now with the rise of online shopping, that we have really strong content on [retailer partners’] websites about the nutritional value, the usage, the recipes and so on.
“But first and foremost, we’re talking about taste, so we've invested in leading food photography to really emphasize how delicious and versatile this product is, as well as the fact that we’re taking the pig out of the equation.”