As COVID restrictions lifted and vaccines got underway this spring, the industry saw the widespread return of sampling, and Impossible Foods wasted no time getting its plant-based products into consumers’ hands. On a mission to reach a new retail audience and support Walmart, a key customer, the brand hit the road with the Impossible Food Truck Tour on May 1, just in time for grilling season.
Traveling to Walmart parking lots and a handful of other grocery partner locations through June 21, Impossible Foods is making stops in Virginia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey, Georgia and Arkansas (Mosaic, Chicago, is handling). The brand is leveraging its two food trucks, Baby Heme and Juicy Lucy (oh yes, they have names), as mobile billboards to draw in both grocery shoppers and passersby from the road.
The brand’s target audience? Essentially, everyone. “We are really targeting meat eaters, which are over 90 percent of the population,” says Erin Dress, director-retail marketing at Impossible Foods. “So that’s a nice slice of audience to try and reach. And we actually find that the vast majority of our consumers still eat meat—we haven’t won them over to being exclusively plant-based. But we’re often the first brand that they’re coming to try from meat because we taste the most like meat and our positioning is trying to show that you can come to plant-based meat without sacrificing the taste and the dishes that you love and grew up with that are such a part of your culture and your family. So we’re happy to be driving accessibility for all.”
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At each stop on the tour, signage helps direct consumers to the activation, which is available as a walk-up or drive-up experience. Upon arriving, attendees are greeted by brand ambassadors who are on hand to answer questions and educate them on Impossible Foods’ products and the plant-based category. Next, consumers are served a complimentary sample—a mini Hawaiian kabob developed by the Impossible Foods culinary team featuring vegetables, fruit and the brand’s plant-based “beef,” served in compostable trays. The kabobs were designed to help attendees think outside of the typical burger-and-bun combo. A tablet-based survey built to collect qualitative feedback for both Impossible Foods and Walmart is also part of the experience.
With plenty of initial engagement around the activation on its social channels, Impossible incorporated a social media contest into the tour in early June to keep the momentum going. Attendees are invited to snap a photo of the food truck and tag #ImpossibleFoodTruckTour for a chance to win an Impossible Foods swag box that includes a t-shirt, bandana, face mask, tote bag, camper mug, socks, pins and stickers.
When the campaign wraps, Impossible Foods will measure its impact by tracking sales lifts at the stores it visits both on the day of the tour stop and in the weeks to follow, as well as results from the on-site surveys. The brand will also use mobile tracking to gauge how effective the trucks were in their roles as traveling billboards in the communities they drove through.
As other food and beverage companies brush off the cobwebs and get their own sampling experiences on the road again, the brand has a few insights gleaned from the Impossible Food Truck Tour to share with the event marketing community:
States—and Stores—Have Varying Regulations
Event marketers should be prepared to understand and adhere to varying COVID-19 rules and regulations in the array of locations where they make stops. And it’s worth considering that tapping into retail partnerships can help smooth out the logistics.
“Part of the concern was we’re visiting so many states, and different states have been opening up at different times,” says Dress. “And so much of store management is up to the actual store manager. So, making sure that, working with Walmart, we could be part of a program helped with the permitting and the permissions of being there on that prime real estate and reaching that retail audience.”
Most Consumers are Eager to Sample Again
Consumers, of course, have varying levels of comfortability when it comes to engaging with brands in person, particularly when food is involved. But Impossible Foods has found that the majority of the people it interacts with are ready and willing to sample again.
“Consumers are excited to get back to sampling,” says Dress. “They’re eager to try new things. One of our key insights for our summer grilling campaign this year was that people feel robbed of last summer, right? And this is, perhaps, a redemption summer where people can get back with friends and family and try food again and break some of the routines that they’re tired of.”
Flexibility is Key
It’s no secret that flexibility is a key ingredient to success in event marketing, and in the COVID era, it’s more important than ever. “You always have to have some flexibility in events. There’s always something that comes up,” says Claire Whedbee, manager of events at Impossible Foods. “And I think this [tour] has taught us to have even more patience and to be flexible, knowing situations with COVID change. It’s been a really great learning.”
Retail Employees are Consumers, Too
For event marketers working with retail partners on their sampling programs, getting store employees involved in the experience can help their brands engage an untapped audience.
“Beyond those consumers from Walmart that are either driving in off the road or on their way into the grocery store, we actually have had store managers say, ‘I want my whole staff to try this. This is an exciting thing to come to our store, thank you for investing in our community. And so I need 50 samples right now to hand out to everyone in the back rooms,’” says Dress. “And we love hearing those stories because everyone’s a consumer and we want to make sure that everyone’s partaking… We love hearing all their feedback as well.”