September 28, 2017

How it feels to sell Impossible Meat

(thanks to this customer -Dave?- for being a good sport and letting me take his picture while he was eating!!!)

We’re 5 days into selling Impossible Meat. As I mentioned the other week this is a big experiment for us. And we’re much too early in this experiment to talk about results. But there are some early thoughts and observations we can share.

First, I think it’s more and more clear to all of us at Clover that the way to think about Impossible is that it is beef. It’s beef that happens not to be made from a cow. But it’s beef. This isn’t a “better veggie burger.” It’s meat. If you don’t want to eat meat I’m not sure this product will appeal to you. (Thankfully we have beautiful vegetable-forward products that will: hello Japanese Sweet Potato Sandwich!)  If you love meat, you might love Impossible.

Second: People are going nuts for the Clover Meatball Sandwich. We’re selling out everyday. People are saying amazing things, as in “this is the best meatball I’ve ever had” or “the only meatball I’ve had that was better was when I was a kid visiting a friend whose grandma made meatballs…” And return rates for this sandwich have gone from 6% on day 2 to 20% on day 6. That’s fantastic performance even for a blockbuster Clover sandwich. We’re eager to see if this continues, and whether it allows us to invite new customers into the Clover fold.

Third: There are angry people out there who happen to be vegan. In the past week I’ve listened to angry voice messages, some more coherent than others. I’ve read through angry Twitter notes, to my surprise some were even from another restaurant company in Boston. Excuse me for simplification, but the theme appears to be this: “Impossible is a Vegan product! Who are you to make it non-vegan by adding eggs and cheese? I’m going to F’ you up.” OK. Well I added that last part. But this is the general tone. And the notes actually say things that range from “shame on you” to “Clover just doesn’t get it” to “I’m never going to eat at your restaurant again,” “Clover is a terrible restaurant,” “I hope you fail,” you get the idea. It’s not exactly polite engagement or discussion. It’s intimidation, threats, and shouting.

It feels awful to read this stuff. It feels angry. It’s hurtful. And I worry about the impact it has on my fellow Clover colleagues. Doing something like Clover requires sacrifice. Everybody working here is making some sort of daily sacrifice. We’re doing it because we want tomorrow to be better than today. When you’re doing that it feels extra discouraging to have somebody yell at you.

We’re used to all sorts of conversations at Clover, but not used to the negative tone. And we just haven’t experienced much negativity from vegan customers at all pre-Impossible, even though much of our menu is not vegan. (We typically have about 30% of our offerings that are vegan.) Our mayo is vegan. Our most popular sandwich is vegan. But I don’t presume to understand where this is coming from. On the face these angry folks are angry because they can’t eat the product on our menu. And some seem to think we’re doing something morally wrong by selling a non-vegan product. There are bunches of products on our menu (and not to mention other menus out there) that are not vegan.

Clover’s mission is to make meat lovers into vegetable lovers. We believe that if we achieve that we’ll make the world a better place. We’d love Clover to be for everybody, but the bulk of our effort is oriented to carnivores. That’s what we do. We’re better at it than anybody in the world. It’s why 93% of our customers are not vegetarian.

There are nearly 300 people at Clover working hard everyday to make this happen. Some are vegan, some are vegetarian, and some are hardcore carnivores with wood smokers at home. We’re all making sacrifices and working together to make the world a better place. I feel honored and lucky everyday to do this work.

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