Burger Flavors on Steroids

New, exotic flavors run rampant—1.6 hamburger restaurants for every 10,000 Americans
large burger

OAKBROOK TERRACE, Ill. -- “Have it your way.”

What once served as an evocative slogan for a national burger chain, the phrase now packs so much additional potential.

It used to signify a simple request for pickles, onions, extra ketchup (and hold the cheese!), but has since graduated to something more substantive. Similar to pizza and other fare, customer cravings for exotic burgers are unrelenting, a trend that should keep convenience-store retailers on their toes.

For example, Masher Burgers are beef or chicken burgers topped with garlic mashed potatoes, truffle gravy and crispy onion strings. They were tested in the summer of 2014 by Carl’s Jr., according to Datassentials’ August edition of FoodBytes.

And there’s more exotic inspiration where that came from: Bison burgers are a perennial limited-time offer, and two or three chains have introduced one each year since 2013. This summer Fuddruckers introduced a Bison Chipotle Burger, while Kona Grill in January introduced a Bison Burger with Danish bleu cheese, according to FoodBytes.

The Rock Bottom’s Bison Prairie Burger, offered twice as an LTO in 2014, features a “perfectly seasoned bison patty smash-griddled to guests’ liking” topped with poblano peppers, mushrooms, pepper jack cheese, pico de gallo and chipotle mayonnaise. The burger scored in the 85th percentile with male consumers, and in the 57th percentile overall, according to FoodBytes.

Rock Bottom also introduced a BBQ Brisket Stuffed Burger last November: a beef patty filled with shredded BBQ beef brisket, served on a buttery grilled onion bun with smoked gouda, lettuce and tomato. Again, the burger scored high with male consumers (91st percentile), as well as millennials and baby boomers.

At the Green Turtle Sports Bar & Grille, The Comeback Burger brings breakfast flavors to the lunch and dinner menu, according to FoodBytes. The LTO features an Angus burger topped with bacon, cheddar, American cheese and a fried egg drizzled in maple syrup, all served between two Belgian waffles with a side of homemade cheddar and scallion-stuffed tater tots.

With so much activity, social media has joined the fray. The Hartman Group reported in September that Burgerbusiness.com noted fan photos of customized burgers are becoming “Facebook staples for many burger chains and bars.”

The site reports “Canada’s South St. Burger is taking that idea a step farther by creating what it’s calling a ‘Not-So-Secret’ menu. These are four new sandwiches inspired by customers’ photos of custom burgers. These are made possible by what the chain claims are the 730 million ways to order a burger because of its extensive array of topping options.”

The Hartman Group’s Digital Food Life study found the interplay between consumers, social media, smartphone use and “digital life” is reconfiguring how consumers eat today. The study found that “through technology, food culture has shifted in such a way that it is no longer imperative that food marketers focus on consumers’ wants and needs. Instead, forward-looking companies should pay attention more to what people are actually doing with food, how they play with it and what meals and snacks they make.”

Burger Facts

CHD Expert, a Chicago-based foodservice data and analytics firm, has evaluated the current hamburger restaurant landscape of the United States and uncovered recent trends that offer new insight into this market.

  • There are roughly 1.6 hamburger restaurants for every 10,000 Americans.
  • As of August 2015, there are more than 49,000 hamburger restaurants in the United States. In 2014, independent burger restaurants grew 6.7% in units, whereas chain burger restaurants showed limited overall growth.
  • The fast-casual segment is still on the rise, with four of the Top 10 fast-casual growth chains being classified in the burger segment. Independent burger restaurants make up 14% of the entire burger market.

“The burger market in the United States is a multibillion dollar business,” said Brad Bloom, vice president of sales and marketing at CHD Expert, The Americas. “As this landscape continues to expand, new opportunities for generating profitability begin to present themselves to manufacturers and suppliers. Each new trend represents a new opportunity for growth, be it with a new start up concept restaurant or an established chain.”