Written by: Ralph Blessing and Jeri Quest, SIVO Research Strategists
Plant-based food is more than just a trend—it’s a dynamic, fast-growing category that has attracted the attention of food and meat manufacturing companies such as Tyson Foods, Memphis Meats and Cargill.* Impossible Foods is a leading and innovative brand in the plant-based food space, producing “meatless meat” that is incredibly similar looking and tasting to meat for discerning consumers.
The company launched its “Impossible Burger” in the U.S in 2016. In preparation for a launch in Hong Kong restaurants this summer, Impossible Foods tapped SIVO as a partner. We were thrilled to travel to China and partner with this trailblazing brand to help them find out if its product tasted authentic and comparable to meat. Our SIVO expertise helped tease out diners’ real attitudes, needs and reasons for trying Impossible Foods meat to the mainstream alternative of cow meat. We also managed the true test for a new brand launch: were consumer’s likely to buy it again or even recommend it to friends?
Influencing the Influencers
Our insights journey started with Impossible Foods’ organic, strategic approach for infiltrating a new market: leverage and partner with popular, well-known chefs and restaurants that buy into the vision of plant-based meat. Each chef’s own foodie following helped Impossible Foods get buzz, generate a cool factor and create new fans of the product. We saw first-hand how the influence of social media buzz on blogs and Instagram was a particularly effective way to reach and engage urban Millennials in this market. Let’s just say we had no shortage of respondents who showed up for dinner wanting to check out the new Impossible Foods menu items.
The Hong Kong Foodscape
As we visited restaurants, observed dining behaviors and spoke directly with people, we were struck by the sophistication of the foodie culture in Hong Kong. For example, we noticed that group dining is especially popular in Hong Kong. Imagine tables of six young people, ordering two chili fries, one with meat and one with Impossible Foods meat, simply to compare the two out of pure curiosity. We also noticed the city is filled with a diverse mix of locals, Europeans, other expats, Millennials, and boarding school students, all of whom were happy to share their thoughts and experiences with us.
At the time of our research, Impossible Foods launched its product in three Hong Kong locales: at an upscale burger chain as well as two hip, chic restaurants run by a notable female chef. Each of the three restaurants tried Impossible Foods “meat” in different ways: a Thai burger, chili fries, bao and a pastry pocket.
SIVO Uncovers the True Customer Experience
Our consumer insight challenge was unique due to the various ways the chefs used the product. We had to decipher how diners liked the Impossible Foods ingredient since it was used in four different recipes. Processing many variables also added to our mission—like the different flavors of the foods, the time of day and day of week, as well as the exciting melting pot of cultures in Hong Kong.
We were really motivated to gain insights in a fresh, new way, identifying how customers interacted and experienced the Impossible Foods menu items in the dining moment. So, we ventured out into the hot, humid and rainy summer weather in Hong Kong, sometimes even getting lost in the tiny, winding streets of the old city. We spent five days at selected local restaurants, observing and engaging with more than 200 diners. To round out the learning, we spoke with servers and the chefs to hear their perspectives as well.
The Hong Kong experience was incredible for us in so many ways, but one of the most interesting aspects was witnessing the genuine excitement diners had for trying something new. They snapped in-the-moment pictures, posted immediate reactions on social media about what they ate, debated with friends about the various flavors they tasted, and purposefully made it one big, fun social experience! We savored this unique opportunity as researchers—and as human beings—to take part in such a dynamic, global experience.