Burgers are a quintessential American food. The simplicity of the burger’s ingredients makes it an eternal comfort food, yet the same simplicity lends itself to countless variations. With the rise of fast-casual “better burger” concepts and the expansion of burger menus across limited-service and full-service restaurant segments, we’re living in a golden age of burger innovation.
Burger consumption up considerably since 2009, with nearly half of today’s consumers saying they eat a burger at least once a week, compared with fewer than four out of 10 two years ago. This growth is seen across all restaurant segments. Out of all of the top entrée categories, burgers were represented by the greatest number of new items.
Quick-service value menus are certainly a big part of this increase in burger consumption. But the specialty burger craze has also driven growth despite — or perhaps even because of — the higher prices these burgers command. Quick-service chains have begun to respond to the growing demand for premium burgers.
Let’s take a look at trends in all the components of a burger — protein, toppings and breads.
Start with top quality meat
Meat trends include new attention to premium proteins. When asked what makes a good burger, consumers say that the quality of the meat is by far the most important factor. Consumers largely associate “premium” burgers with a high-quality cut and type of meat. Opportunities exist for operators to convey a higher-quality offering through the use of Angus beef. For instance, Beef ‘O’ Brady’s recently added a line of Black Angus Burgers, seasoned with kosher salt and black pepper, and served on a toasted brioche bun.
There’s growing interest in burgers perceived as more healthful, including those that use turkey or a veggie burger as the foundation. Winking Lizard Tavern, for instance, unveiled Mini Tuscan Turkey Burgers with chopped spinach and Muenster cheese.
Lately, operators are showcasing depth of flavor for burgers with stuffed preparations. The Capital Grille’s Signature Cheeseburger features chopped sirloin beef that has been blended with smoked bacon and sweet onions before being grilled to order. Timber Lodge Steakhouse offers burgers stuffed with bleu cheese.
Add cheese to impart flavor
Cheeses can help differentiate burger offerings by highlighting flavor and artisan appeal. The most commonly offered cheese on burgers at limited-service restaurants is American, but cheddar is by far the most popular in the full-service segment. The Counter’s Old School Burger defines retro appeal with one-third pound of beef, topped with Tillamook cheddar, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles and relish.
Specialty bleu and goat cheeses can add sharpness or a premium quality, while nacho, pepper jack, mozzarella and feta cheeses can help operators position globally inspired burgers on the menu. Chevy’s new El Mexi Burger is a seasoned burger with green chile peppers, avocado and jalapeño jack cheese, served in a grilled flour tortilla instead of a bun. Bar Louie menus a Greek Burger, with tzatziki sauce, spinach, tomato, onion, cucumber, goat cheese and an olive mix.
Take it up a notch
Toppings also tend toward the classics — tomato, lettuce, onion and pickle are most widely preferred and menued. Up-and-coming toppings that signal global flavor influences like avocado, guacamole and pineapple may not be as prevalent, but are a menu trend to watch for. And bacon is a crowd pleaser whenever it’s offered.
Introduce even greater flavor
Condiments provide another adaptable platform for operators and suppliers to experiment with flavor. Garlic, chipotle, tomato, herbal ingredients and hot sauces can be mixed into mayonnaise to up the flavor ante for burgers. Mustard is another standard condiment available in many varieties.
Discover new ways to wrap your creation
Breads are another often-overlooked platform for adding flavor, texture and premium appeal to burgers. Sesame-seed buns and whole wheat buns are the top choice for limited-service restaurant and full-service restaurant burgers.
More females than males prefer wheat buns, likely because women perceive this option to be healthier than other types of bread. Fuddruckers launched a Lighter Options program to attract more female guests and health-conscious diners, including Lite Burgers served on whole wheat buns; burgers can be ordered with ostrich, buffalo, turkey, veggie or salmon patties.
Premium positioning for burger breads can be seen in the growing use of pretzel and sourdough breads, and, to a lesser extent, challah, ciabatta and rye.
We can help you get started
US Foods can supply the meats, cheese, toppings, condiments, breads — and expertise — to make burgers truly special. Exclusive brands include Stock Yards, Cattlemen’s Selection and Patuxent Farms meats; Glenview Farms and Roseli cheeses; Cross Valley Farms produce such as lettuce and tomatoes; Monarch condiments and pickles; and Hilltop Hearth buns and breads. For more information, contact your US Foods representative.