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    How Smashburger Offers Local Flavors in its Markets


    How Smashburger Offers Local Flavors in its Markets - Kandessa Media

    When Smashburger, a 'better burger' chain based in Denver and founded in 2007, expanded into its second market outside of Colorado, the chain's senior management wanted to add depth to the menu with some local favorites in Houston, Tx.

    While researching culinary favorites in the market, it came up with a very basic version in the Smashburger Texas Burger, but its popularity exceeded expectations. The local creation of American cheese, tomato, lettuce, onion, pickles, and mustard, was a "star" and the first  locally-inspired burger, according to Smashburger, was born.

    After the Houston burger became the number two bestseller for the chain, Smashburger executives realized that beyond creating more relevant burgers, the culinary process of creating local favorites for a market would bring more innovation to the brand and its culinary development. So, in 2009, the local market menu in Denver was retrofit with its own favorite, the Colorado Burger: grilled mild green chilies, melted cheddar cheese, pepper jack cheese, lettuce, tomato and mayo on a spicy chipotle bun.

    “Thus began the approach of how we are able to understand primary demand in a market," says Tom Ryan, founder and chief concept officer for Smashburger. Ryan said the process began simply because Smashburger management did not want to have any relevant gaps in any market menu. By the time the chain was entering Utah, Smashburger's charismatic founder understood that the process would be core to his smashed-burger, better burger brand.

    This winning process takes into account:

    • The culinary and marketing experience
    • Online review sites offering critical insight
    • Deep knowledge base of franchise partners
    • Distributors’ knowledge about what product is moving through a market

    It's hard to reinvent the wheel, and Smashburger is not the first chain to understand that a menu needs to reflect local tastes. But, by creating buzz around its creations, and using a systematic business intelligence to consistently create a burger restaurant menu highly relevant to the local market base, Smashburger just might be the first national chain to truly create a religion around building a concept that is national in feel, but local in the way it markets and develops its menu.

    "My culinary team in Denver and I—we've been in the restaurant business with big companies, so we've traveled all around the country—we have an inherent sense of what is popular in the different regions," says Ryan. Ryan is a marketing veteran, having worked in the United States and abroad for large chains like McDonald's and Yum Brands' Pizza Hut, and a menu wizard - his biggest claim to fame might be the Stuffed Crust Pizza.

    "Creating local favorites is a very important hallmark of our brand." Tom Ryan, Smashburger.

    Beyond understanding culinary trends from years of working for foodservice companies, Ryan's team also scours online review sites to see what is popular in the different markets. The local menu development looks at all restaurants, without limiting itself to burger concepts and quick serve.

    "We cull what seems to be regional and pervasive," notes Ryan. The team can look for key flavors, sauces, ingredients, and other regional specialties.

    Franchise teams and core partners are also a good resource to gain insight to regional tastes in what becomes a very grassroots approach, says Ryan. He says the Smashburger team often asks these partners to query within their own business and personal circles, as well as family members, to find out what is really appealing within the market.

    “Distributors (supply chain partners) have both the know-how and the data to understand what products sell well within a market. They have an inherent knowledge about what is popular based on what is moving through the system," says Ryan.

    He says after all the data is pulled and anecdotal information is solicited, the Smashburger menu development team lays it all out "like tinker toys," and makes the menu decision in conjunction with the operations and franchise teams.

    The buzz about the menu precedes the opening of each restaurant, with Smashburger fielding questions about what the local creation will be months in advance. "It is a very important hallmark of our brand," says Ryan about the how Smashburger develops local burgers, sides and shakes for each unique market.

    Smashburger storeThe market research process in Oklahoma offers insight into how fun, yet direct, the process can be. After studying the local trends and following their research model, Smashburger found that fried pickles were so popular on the menu, they were surprised other operators had not already seized the opportunity. However, as popular as the item was as a side item, fried pickles were not found in an actual sandwich itself. When Smashburger created the Oklahoma Burger, it included a combination of pepper jack cheese, fried onions, lettuce, and fried pickles. Soon after, competing operators did follow suit. Fried pickles were so popular in the market, once featured in mainsteam media, Smashburger launched them as sides nationally.

    The Salt Lake City burger, the “Beehive,” is another local creation that has been very popular. The burger includes honey barbecue sauce, applewood smoked bacon, cheddar cheese, and haystack onions inside an egg bun. According to Smashburger, the sandwich is the highest selling regional burger across the entire system.

    In addition to regionally inspired burgers, Smashburger also gives sides a local twist: Fried Green Chiles in Colorado, and Fried Jalapeños in Dallas, for example. The assortment of Häagen Dazs® shakes is also localized: You’ll find Banana Pudding Shake in Charlotte, Peach Shake in Atlanta, and a Gooey Butter Cake Shake in St. Louis (see our sidebar article "Locally-Inspired Favorites" for the recipe).

    "I always like to tell people, we get an extra paragraph when people write about us," says Ryan. "It's what people [bloggers, writers] like to write about so they write longer and better." And even with that, Ryan seems to be right on.

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    See also "Smashburger Local Creations with Flair."

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    Photo: Windy City Burger, courtesy of ICR

    Copyright: Kandessa Media. All rights reserved.

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    This story appears in:  Food News & Trends