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    For Fast Casual, Burger Trends Point to Success


    For Fast Casual, Burger Trends Point to Success - Kandessa Media

    According to NPD CREST (Consumer Reports on Eating Share Trends) tracking, a leading source of foodservice industry consumer data, burger servings reached a whopping 9 billion in 2010, proving that America’s love for burgers continues to surpass all other menu items. Fast casual outlets were responsible for one billion of that 9 billion burgers number while consumers of QSRs -- which combine the fast casual and fast food sectors -- gobbled up 8 billion total burgers.

    Helping burgers maintain No. 1 status is their versatility, convenience, value, and nostalgia. Smart burger outlets are capitalizing on those tried-and-true value points to segue toward unique concepts that are helping the QSR segment stand out as it elevates the burger experience.

    The Better-Burger Concept

    Burgers have always offered flexibility and nostalgia, but the burger buzz this year is that restaurant operators will recognize (if they haven’t already), that success means making the consumer burger experience and nostalgia soar to new heights. This year, burgers have to become, “better.”

    b.good is one such chain. The seven-unit better-burger concept offers a menu of all-natural beef, turkey and chicken burgers along with chicken sandwiches, assorted sides, and shakes. Founder Jon Olinto says, “We have a huge differentiation. No one is doing burgers like we're doing. The story is about people making the food.”

    The concept focuses on “people making food”. Burgers are prepared fresh in-house daily and molded just prior to grilling. In February 2010, b.good started using a network of local farmers to source its beef naturally and hormone-free.

    Options draw crowds. But at a time where fine dining, local cafes and small-footprint outlets are screaming sustainability, if grinding the meat at the store and sourcing beef locally from a network of farms doesn’t catch buzz and draw loyalty, nothing will.

    Smashurger is a 93-unit chain specializing in all-Angus burgers with “integrity and value” and has built a strong following in cities like Denver, Minneapolis, Chicago, and Houston.

    The concept currently operates in 19 states and 25 consolidated market areas, and with 30 franchise groups driving close to 450 store agreements in the pipeline, the Denver-based chain is prime for explosive growth and brand recognition. In 2009, Smashburger stores grew more than 300 percent. In 2010, the better burger concept doubled in size. ”We see people that would have [gone] to a bar, pub, or big mom-and-pop place” but instead visit Smashburger, says Founder and Chief Concept Officer Tom Ryan. “We have a bold, high- energy, great-feeling environment. We can compete with everyone.”

    “Burgers are one of the bright spots in the industry.” Bonnie Riggs, NPD.

    Opportunity Comes Knocking

    Additional data from NPD’s CREST report suggest that while foodservice struggled during 2008 and 2009, burgers flourished. Burger servings were up about 3 percent in each of those two years. After admirable increases, 2010 saw burgers decline one percent.

    “Burgers are one of the bright spots in the industry,” says Bonnie Riggs, industry analyst for NPD. Based on the firm’s report A Look Into the Future of Foodservice, Riggs tells Quick Serve Leader that  the next decade holds an average of a less than one percent increase for all of foodservice, but that burgers will exceed the total industry’s growth, consistently.

    Smashburger’s high-energy people and environs, and diverse menu that always includes a “local burger creation” - menus in each city reflect local flavors or themes, in Minneapolis local cherry BBQ sauce is used - is testament to the buzz and opportunities around burgers. In three short years the concept has grown from just three stores to almost 100. By the end of 2011 there will be nearly 200.

    “We believe the Northeast is a great market for burgers in general,” says Smashburger’s Ryan. “We're populating with franchises and some might be corporate.” He praised his franchisees in New York and New Jersey as highly experienced and successful, and indicated the company’s eyes are on Philadelphia, Boston and Washington. Smashburger’s bold decor, handmade burgers and availability of beer and wine at several locations make it an easy sell with loyalists.


    Both b.good and Smashburger focus on creating a unique experience for customers. b.good’s principle of serving food “made from people, not factories” is a guiding premise that draws young families with children, more so than the founders would have expected.

    "Kids love burgers, but parents want to find the solution to [to the problem of] buying them something that isn't good for them,” says Olinto.

    The young entrepreneur has visited several of the farms and met the people who produce the beef he uses. The chain’s network of 140 farms rotates five to 10 farms weekly into its procurement channel for its seven stores. The hormone and antibiotic-free burgers comprise 70 percent of the chain’s current menu mix.

    Fast casual operators are wise to take a hard look at their burger offerings and mimic the success of these concepts. Entrepreneurs and investors alike that realize the value and lasting power of burgers in the quick-service industry can’t disregard stand alone concepts that provide a winning formula for this ageless menu item that has seemingly endless staying power.

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    This story appears in:  Food News & Trends