Plant-based burgers have taken the startup world by storm, attracting big-name investors like Bill Gates with high-tech products that bear closer resemblance to an actual Big Mac or Whopper than the sad, cardboard-esque Gardenburgers of yesteryear. Now, they’re popping up at Whole Foods, and not just in the retail case: The grocer has begun adding fast-casual burger restaurants to select locations, Forbes reports.
Next Level Burger opened its first location in Bend, Ore. back in 2014, and has since expanded to four stores — two of which are located inside Whole Foods: a lower-cost 365 store in Lake Oswego, Ore. got an NLB in the summer of 2016, and it spread its wings to Seattle last month, opening inside a Whole Foods in the Roosevelt neighborhood.
The mini-chain serves Beyond Burger, the plant-based burger patty that “bleeds” beet juice (not to be confused with the headline-grabbing Impossible Burger), as well as several different varieties of housemade veggie patties such as a black bean burger and an “umami” quinoa and mushroom version. They also serve meatless hot dogs, salads, sides, and shakes, all free of animal products and non-GMO.
The partnership marks a huge growth opportunity for Next Level Burger, which counts Twitter founder Alex Payne among its investors — particularly now that Whole Foods is merging with Amazon. Over the next few months, Whole Foods has additional Next Level Burger openings slated for Northern California, and possible locations for the East Coast as well.
“Our Whole Foods Market chef lived near the Next Level Burger in Southeast Portland when it opened. He tried it out, and he absolutely loved it. So he got our management to check it out, and they loved it too,” says Erika Dimmler, regional PR director for Whole Foods. “In the end, it was an easy decision to partner with a plant-based burger joint that is not only delicious and satisfying, but also committed to all organic produce and non-GMO ingredients.”
Restaurants located inside grocery stores have grown in popularity in recent years as grocers strive to create the kind of experiential shopping destinations that lure millennials in; craft beer bars and fast-casual burger joints are being added as a way to keep shoppers in the store longer, giving them a reason to hang out as opposed to, say, spending their food budget on mail-order meal kits instead.