Increased demand for burgers in the past several years combined with a dwindling beef supply have resulted in higher prices that are forecasted to increase even further. Consumers are feeling the effects: 51% say they have noticed that burger prices have increased over the past year, according to Technomic’s 2015 Burger Consumer Trend Report. Operators have options for ways to keep burgers on the menu at prices that don’t scare off consumers.
The burger industry has in the past used premium types of beef as a way to enhance burger quality—think McDonald’s Angus burger, cut in 2013 yet recently reintroduced in a Sirloin version. But to keep costs down, operators can move their focus beyond beef to expand the ways they signal quality.
There’s no doubt that consumers associate premium burgers with high-quality meat, more so than with any other attribute. With sky-rocketing beef prices, offering blended patties with less expensive meats like pork, value cuts like beef brisket and even non-meat ingredients like mushrooms can help operators balance high food costs while offering variety and uniqueness. Stuffed burgers, which appeal to 30% of consumers, can serve the same purpose.
Although meat quality still outranks all other attributes, fewer consumers now than in 2013 say that the quality of the meat makes a burger premium, indicating opportunity to convey quality through ingredients beyond the middle of the burger. Indeed, high-quality vegetable toppings, artisan/specialty cheeses, specialty toppings and housemade ingredients all rank among the leading attributes that consumers associate with a premium burger. These non-protein ingredients are ostensibly cheaper and can be added as an option for an upcharge.
More than two-fifths of consumers (44%) say they usually order a burger as part of a combo meal, confirming what our french-fry cravings told us all along: Sides are a key part of the burger occasion. Premium side offerings, such as sweet potato and natural-cut fries and sea-salt finishers, can be utilized to drive brand differentiation and appeal to consumers’ desires for unique and premium offerings. Wendy’s offers a version of this with its Baconator Fries to premiumize its side offerings and capitalize on the success of its popular namesake menu item.
Of course the protein—specifically beef, easily the most preferred protein—will always be the most important part of the burger, but during a time when beef prices are prohibitive, it’s worth focusing on other ways to convey quality within the burger occasion.