Red Robin has bought into the vegan burger craze. The casual dining chain, known for its menu featuring dozens of gourmet burger iterations, has partnered with Impossible Foods to launch the Impossible Cheeseburger, its first foray into plant-based protein burgers. The new menu item will be available across all of Red Robin’s 570 locations in the U.S. starting on April 1.
The deal with Red Robin marks the largest restaurant chain partnership that Impossible Foods has locked in to date. The company also signed on to produce its signature plant-based protein for all 377 White Castle locations in the U.S. last fall.
“Red Robin takes meat seriously — and it’s a major endorsement that the Impossible Cheeseburger is now part of Red Robin’s justifiably famous menu,” Lisa Will, Impossible Foods’ vice president of sales, said in a statement.
A Welcome Sales Boost
From Red Robin’s perspective, the chain could use the attention that a popular new menu item launch could bring. Red Robin has been struggling to pull its sales up for multiple quarters, feeling the pressure from operational inefficiencies and being slow to adapt to new digital sales channels, including online ordering and delivery.
In the fourth quarter of 2018, Red Robin reported a 4.5 percent decline in comparable store sales and a 4.4 percent decline in comparable guest count at its restaurants, compared to the same period in the prior year. Total revenue was down 10.8 percent in the quarter.
“2018 was, in sum, a very disappointing year for us,” Red Robin CEO Denny Marie Post told investors on the company’s most recent earnings call. “It brought a lot of hard-earned learning, which we are using to urgently set new plans to turn our performance around.”
A Successful New Recipe
Impossible Foods debuted Impossible Burger 2.0, a revamped version of the original faux meat burger, at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this year. The new recipe was cited as the reason that Red Robin’s culinary team chose to work with Impossible Foods to develop a vegan burger offering.
The Impossible Burger is now on the menu at over 5,000 restaurant locations in the U.S., due in part to a distribution partnership with DOT Foods. Impossible Foods is planning to launch a packaged version of the burger in grocery stores later this year.
The company has also hit its fair share of obstacles as it has grown. Impossible Foods announced its first voluntary recall last week over a piece of plastic found in a shipment of its Impossible Burger mix, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has repeatedly investigated the faux meat company over its central recipe ingredient, the “heme” compound.
The suspicious attention has been enough to turn some restaurant chains to Impossible Foods’ direct competitor, Beyond Meat. The plant-based protein purveyor has signed large restaurant chains including Carl’s Jr. and A&W as its partners, already has a grocery distribution deal in place, and has put its Beyond Burger on the menu at upwards of 11,000 restaurants in the U.S. due to an exclusive distribution deal with foodservice giant Sysco. Beyond Meat filed to go public late last year.
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