Wayback Burgers: Lessons learned from an ImpossibleTM Skeptic
Wayback Burgers’ President is living proof that Impossible™ products drive real business results.
Wayback Burgers has had an incredible year. Not only did the fast-growing burger franchise bring in double digit sales growth during a global pandemic, they are adding ~20 new locations in the United States and were recently awarded a master franchise in Japan. In addition to adding new locations, President Patrick Conlin brought new and innovative items like the Impossible™ Melt to the menu.
However, the decision to add Impossible™ meat made from plants to the menu wasn’t easy because Patrick was skeptical about whether or not his guests would be fans. Learn what finally convinced Wayback Burgers to add Impossible™ Burger to the menu, the overwhelming response they received from their guests and why Patrick now advises other Impossible™ skeptics not to follow in his footsteps unless they want to miss out on incredible sales.
Impossible Foods: You used to be an Impossible skeptic. What made you change your mind?
Patrick Conlin: Our relationship with Impossible Foods goes back three years. We always had a garden burger on our menu, and when we started to see press around Impossible Burger and other meat alternatives, we reached out to request samples. Our R&D chef cooked it up and I asked, ‘How much does this cost per pound?’ After doing the math, I realized we would need to sell it at $10 a burger and I was skeptical that our guests would pay that price for a non-meat burger. I was also worried if we pushed this product out to our franchisees, they would be disappointed in the sales volume.
I decided to pass because I thought it was a ‘shooting star phenomenon’ that would fizzle out after a few months. However, we had one employee in the office who was a huge fan, and anytime there was a press release or new launch with a partner, she would send me an email asking for us to try a Limited Time Offer (LTO) and I kept saying, ‘Not yet, it’s not for us.’
Fast forward to the fall of 2018, I kept hearing more and more about the product and saw more fast casual chains and QSRs adding it to the menu. At that point we got more samples, decided to try a Limited Time Offer and ended up launching our Impossible Melt during Lent in 2019.
IF: Why did you choose Impossible Foods over the competition?
PC: Impossible Burger was the closest to a traditional beef burger in the way it smelled, cooked, bled and tasted. The competitors had an unappealing aftertaste, and I had seen much more press and stories in trade magazines about Impossible Foods. We also had an Impossible™ fan on our team, so if I had chosen another product, we would have had a problem! She was convinced from the beginning that this would be one of our best-selling LTOs, and she was right.
IF: Did your Impossible™ launch exceed expectations?
PC: Yes! I couldn’t believe it, but we sold out of Impossible meat at many of our restaurants. Dozens of franchise owners called us saying, “I'm going to run out of Impossible Burger, how do I order more?” Even franchisees in places like South Carolina were demanding dozens of cases because they were worried about running out. Your team was really helpful in connecting us with distributors who could fulfill all the demand -- we had to give you kudos for building such a reliable supply chain.
I remember one owner in Pennsylvania telling me, ‘We’re going to sell our Impossible Burger for $9.99? That burger will be impossible to sell.’ Funny enough, he was one of the franchisees that called back and ordered more! It’s a telling story that shows our guests didn’t have a problem with the price point and that they really love the burger. Now we’re looking forward to using the product more in the coming years.
IF: How does the Impossible Melt compare to your other items?
PC: Our Impossible Melt costs around $2-3 more than a double burger patty. However, I always tell our franchisees that while the food cost percentage is higher, the dollars that you make per sale (gross profit) is also much higher. When you sell an Impossible Burger, you make more dollar profit -- that’s important to remember because you don’t take percentages to the bank, you take dollars. You’re probably going to sell more Wayback Burgers than Impossible Burger, but you’ll still make a healthy profit from each Impossible™ sale.
When you sell an Impossible Burger, you make more dollar profit -- that’s important to remember because you don’t take percentages to the bank, you take dollars.
Wayback Burgers Menu
IF: How did guests react?
PC: The response was phenomenal. I initially thought that only vegetarians would eat Impossible meat, so when your team told us that the majority of your customers are meat eaters who are looking to cut down on their meat intake, I was skeptical. However, the volume we sold and the feedback we received made it clear that many of our regular guests ordered it.
We also got a lot of new traffic from Impossible™ fans who had seen a press release or an ad. The general feedback we got was ‘I’d never been to a Wayback Burgers before, the only reason I came in was because of your Impossible Melt.’ We also got comments like ‘You have to bring the Impossible Melt back! That was the reason my friends and I came in and if you don’t bring it back, you’ll lose our business’. We have never had that kind of enthusiasm for an LTO before, so that was a very good motivator to make it a permanent menu item.
The response was phenomenal...We have never had that kind of enthusiasm for an LTO before, so that was a very good motivator to make the Impossible Melt a permanent menu item.
Wayback Burgers Impossible Melt Source: Wayback Burgers Facebook(opens in a new tab)
IF: How did you get all of your franchisees on board?
PC: Any time we launch an LTO, we send a full marketing kit with window clings, menu boards, and collateral. Your team also sent Impossible Burger paper, toothpick flags and other assets that were very helpful. In addition, we created a webinar and sent an operational rollout guide that included step-by-step instructions for building the menu item and talking points.
It was really important that our front of the house staff knew how to talk about the product because we would have guests see the photo on our menu board and order the Impossible Melt thinking it was a meat burger. Then when they were eating it, someone in their party would call out that it wasn’t meat and they wouldn’t believe it! They would come back up to the counter and couldn’t believe it wasn’t animal meat! That was a fun educational moment and we saw our regulars come back and order it again.
IF: You’ve had a really successful year. What’s the secret to your success and what’s in the future for Wayback Burgers?
PC: We like to have fun in the restaurants, and are intentional with our menu innovation and campaigns. I’ve found that those launches drive traffic to the restaurant and get people talking about our brand. Our franchisees have also done an amazing job throughout the pandemic with all the restrictions, supply chain issues and labor shortages. Through it all, they’ve had record sales, and that growth has positively impacted the franchise development side of the brand with more franchise sales from new and existing franchisees
Now we’re growing the brand even further and scaling internationally - we were recently awarded franchise rights to Japan, one of the biggest deals in the company’s history. We’re very excited to launch new restaurants over the next 6-12 months and have 20 more franchisees signing on and looking to open new locations across the United States. It’s been an incredible 18 months despite what's going on in the world and we look to continue that ride.
IF: What advice would you offer to other Impossible™ Skeptics out there?
PC: Don’t listen to me! I was wrong and if I hadn’t been so hard headed, we would have gotten into the Impossible™ business a year earlier. We missed out on a year of incredible sales because I was a skeptic. The product sells itself, and the branding and support that your team has given us has been excellent. Wayback Burgers is living proof that Impossible™ products are on trend and drive real business results.