The Case of the “Impossible Whopper”
A look into crisis management
In November of 2019, Burger King was sued on the basis that they cooked their meatless Impossible Whopper on the same surface of which their meat options are prepared. The question of contamination was scrutinized by many consumers since the Impossible Whopper had been advertised as meatless.
The plaintiff of the case alleged that he would not have purchased the Impossible Whopper if it was clearly stated the burger was cooked on the same appliance as their normal products because of his vegan diet. The Impossible Whopper was deemed a success during its initial release in August of 2019 as it had created an increase in sales during the quarter it was introduced. To date, the Impossible Whopper has been the most popular meat alternative in the fast-food industry in both name and revenue.
However, the vegan and vegetarian groups that once rallied behind the Impossible Burger have turned on Burger King. Many customers had voiced their issues with the Impossible Burger even before the lawsuit on social media. The chain publicly stated in response that they never promised that the burger was completely vegan or vegetarian and had disclosed it would be prepared in an “open kitchen environment”.
The head of sales at Impossible Foods Inc., Dana Worth, remarked that the Impossible Burger was created to help customers consume less meat, not cater to meat-free standards. She further added that the burger could be cooked on a different surface if requested.
The chain claimed that they had clearly communicated these thoughts consistently to all their channels from social media to journalists. Burger King stated that their advertising was clear and transparent as they described their burger as “100% Whopper, 0% Beef” and “For guests looking for a meat-free option, a non-broiler method is available upon request.”
However, the Advertising Standards Authority and The Vegan Society have all noted that too many people have had the impression that the product could be consumed by strict vegans and vegetarians. Additionally, the groups have said that Burger King’s clarifications on their vegan items were in too small of a font.
Burger King had a weak response to the negative attention as their social media promoted their Impossible products as normal. The only time the company admitted to their fault was when they released a plant-based item called the Rebel Whopper to specificity appease vegans and vegetarians, but the Rebel Whopper had received the same issues of which the Impossible Whopper had faced.
The failure to admit an oversight, yet indirectly affirm it through the launch of a new item has been ineffectual. The short and long-term implications of the negative message have created an overall negative impact. Sales of the Impossible Whopper have dropped, although it is unclear how much this action correlates with the press. Negative messages have continued to circulate about Burger King’s Impossible Items, especially among groups the product should be enticing.
Business writers and communicators should understand from this example that their work can be used for or against the company they work for in court. On the other hand, consumers should understand that businesses are not always perfect, but should be held responsible for their actions.
Respecting interest groups is a serious matter. Social media has given a voice to small groups, which have made a large impact in the digital sphere. In this case, the plant-based needs were addressed by consumers.
As more plant-based alternatives increase it is necessary that the advertising and product correspond with one another to avoid any deception towards the consumer. When any form of deception is detected by a consumer the subject matter has the potential to expedite a negative message through various digital channels.