Industry News
Breaking the mold with burgers
Sherry Tseng
April 1, 2020

Is there anything more iconic in American cuisine than the good ole’ burger? Loved or liked by nearly 85% of consumers according to Datassential FLAVOR (they’re one of the top 10 most-loved foods in the country), burgers are a staple, but that doesn’t mean they’re static. When it comes to burgers, you really can teach an old dog new tricks – not only are a number of new burger-centric operators cropping up (remember the better-burger craze a few years back?), but existing burger operators are also continually seeking ways to innovate their offerings to keep customers coming back.

Burgers fit for a king

No, we’re not referring to Burger King; rather, we’re talking about a trend that’s been gaining traction. Operators are taking humble comfort foods – in this case burgers – and giving them a premium cachet with the addition of high-end ingredients. Think wagyu beef patties, lobster or shaved truffle toppings, and more.

At Chicago’s Heritage Restaurant and Caviar Bar, for example, diners can say “no regrets” to ordering the No Regrets Burger, which features duck rillettes, egg, gold leaf, and as you might guess from the restaurant’s name, 15 grams of indulgent bowfin caviar. Meanwhile, New York City’s Clinton Hall menus a Dry-Aged Burger made with 28-day dry-aged beef, swiss cheese, crispy onions, watercress, and horseradish cream.

But even if you’re unable to source caviar or dry-aged beef, that doesn’t mean you can’t still get in on the premium burger trend. Simply using a fresh, house-ground patty rather than a frozen one can be a point of differentiation. According to our issue of Creative Concepts: Burgers, nearly 60% of consumers surveyed said the patty is the most important component of a burger, so homing in on ways you can make your burger patties more premium (grinding your beef in-house, springing for wagyu or locally-raised beef, or using beef with health labels like grass-fed) could help your business stand out.

Do the mash(up)

While serving a burger with caviar or gold leaf is one way to go over the top and grab customers’ attention, other operators are choosing to make their burgers stand out in a different way: by dialing the comfort factor up to 10 with creative mashups. Sure, customers might be used to seeing cheese on burgers, but how about a giant slab of baked mac & cheese? That’s what they’ll find at Truffles n Bacon Cafe in Las Vegas. The concept is all about putting unexpected twists on burgers, like the aforementioned mac & cheese (which is the star of their signature TNB Burger, along with bacon jam and sriracha mayo) or tater tots, pork belly, and Hot Cheetos on the hefty Hot Beast Burger.

For an even more out-there burger mashup, look no further than the Burgushi at The Cowfish in Charlotte, NC. Described as a “cutting-edge fusion of sandwiches made with sushi stuff, and sushi crafted with burger stuff,” the Burgushi lineup at The Cowfish come in flavors like the All-American Bacon Double Cheeseburgooshi, which has all the usual trappings of a burger (seasoned all-natural beef, yellow and white cheddar, applewood bacon, and red onion), but in the form of a sushi roll topped with traditional burger condiments like ketchup and mustard.

Creating unexpected burger mashups with other familiar comfort foods could be a talking point among your customers and encourage them to come check out your creation. As we note in our issue of Creative Concepts: Mashups, 44% of consumers say they’d visit a mashup concept, so don’t be afraid to experiment. Even simply swapping out the bun for something else, like say a donut, could potentially appeal to customers – according to our data, 40% of consumers say they’re interested in unconventional burger buns. Take inspiration from concepts like Austin-based chain Gourdough’s, which menus on-trend items like the Southern-inspired Gourdough’s Big Baller burger: it comes with Angus beef and dill pimento cheese (a regional cheese spread that’s grown nearly 55% on menus over the past 4 years, according to Datassential MenuTrends), sandwiched between two donuts instead of your typical bun.

Don’t have a cow about plant-based burgers

Of course, with all the hubbub about the plant-based eating trend, we’d be remiss not to mention the various ways operators are leveraging plant-based burgers today. Seemingly everyone has a plant-based offering these days: White Castle, for example, made a splash when it introduced the Impossible Slider a few years ago, and since then other fast food behemoths have followed suit – just last year Burger King entered the arena with its Impossible Whopper.

Beyond Meat and the Impossible Burger aren’t the only options when it comes to menuing plant-based burgers, however. Indeed, the veggie patty concept came into existence long before either of those products made it big, and many operators are still getting creative with veggie patties today. No longer just an afterthought menued to appease vegans, veggie patties today might showcase trendy ingredients like eye-catching beets, as is the case with Phoenix, AZ-based True Food Kitchen’s Instagrammable Unbeetable Burger. Or for an even more unique spin, consider taro – MokuRoots, a cafe in Maui, Hawaii, makes the Asian root veggie the star in its 100% vegan burgers, which come with flavorful toppings like coconut bacon and roasted corn.

According to our 2019 The New Healthy Keynote Report, over 35% of consumers believe it’s important that restaurants offer healthy burger options, and even more importantly, nearly 40% of operators say they already do so, meaning adding plant-based or even just flexitarian burger options (like a blended mushroom burger) may soon be an expectation, not just a want, among consumers.

No matter how you choose to get creative with your burgers, though, it’s clear that there’s still plenty on the horizon for the fan favorite food. Even if your business’ main focus isn’t burgers, it could still pay to make your burger offerings on-trend and keep up with consumers’ changing tastes and preferences. Given that burgers are already ubiquitous, consider leveraging the dish as a vehicle for on-trend flavors or formats, which could help set your business apart from the competition.

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Sherry Tseng is the publications specialist at Datassential, a supplier of trends, analysis and concept testing for the food industry.

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