April 1 (UPI) -- Burger King began Monday test-marketing its Impossible Whopper, made with plant-based patties but touted as identical in taste to a regular Whopper.
The vegetarian burger is available in 59 St. Louis-area restaurants. If successful it will be rolled out to 7,000 restaurants nationally. The patty is made by California-based Impossible Foods, which develops plant-based substitutes for meat and dairy products.
"We wanted to make sure we had something that lived up to the expectations of the Whopper," said Chris Finazzo, Burger King North America's president. "We've done sort of a blind taste test with our franchisees, with people in the office, with my partners on the executive team, and virtually nobody can tell the difference."
He added that the company has sought a plant-based burger option for a year, as a way to entice vegan, vegetarian and occasional meat eaters to visit a Burger King restaurant.
Impossible Foods' simulated meat burgers are designed to taste like traditional Whoppers, and have the same texture and look of meat when cooked. The new burgers cost about a dollar more than the traditional Whopper, but offer fewer calories, less cholesterol and no trans-fat. The usual Whopper toppings are included on the no-meat patty.
"It's something that can be a real milestone for us as a brand. It's definitely a milestone for Impossible Foods," Fernando Machado, Burger King's global chief marketing officer, said, adding that 90 percent of those who try the new product cannot differentiate it from a regular Whopper.
Impossible Foods products are served at 6,000 restaurants in the United States, including Carl's Jr. and White Castle, but its partnership with Burger King is on a different scale. It is also a breakthrough for the plant-based protein industry, whose products have never caught on with customers of large-scale fast-food restaurants.
"The only thing we need to be is affordable," said Impossible Foods CEO David Lee.