Burger Wars: Premium Patties Steal Spotlight

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It’s that time of year. Canadians are firing up their barbecues and grilling steak, chicken and — a classic Canadian favourite — burgers. With all of the attention barbecued patties get in the summer, it’s worth noting that more than half of those eaten by Canadians are from restaurants — where burger trends are born.

The appeal of the hand-held food is growing in Canada. Between 2008 and 2012, the number of restaurant burger servings in Canada grew by 13 per cent. For the first time in a 12-month period, Canadian consumers ate more than 700-million burgers outside of the home. That’s 21 burgers served per year for every Canadian. No wonder there’s so many burger chains.

Zeroing in on the quick-service restaurant (QSR) burger category, which represents 80 per cent of restaurant burgers, it’s clear the barbecued favourite is driving innovation at small chains and independents. During the past year, burger servings among small chains and independents have grown by 12 per cent, leading the QSR-burger category in growth. Although these smaller players represent only three per cent of burger servings in the category, their growth points to an increasingly competitive market.

During the past year, premium burgers, which include Angus and Sirloin, have substantially grown in popularity among nearly every age group — most notably consumers 35 and older; consumers 35 and younger are also a growing segment.

Burgers are the perfect menu item for “tiered” pricing tactics that drive customer traffic to quick-service burger chains. Targeting a discerning connoisseur who is looking for a premium burger experience, while offering cost-conscious options at lunch, dinner or snack-time, is an effective strategy in today’s challenging market.

Though patties are central to the premium experience, gourmet toppings are another area for profit. Cheeses such as brie or gorgonzola, or spreads such as truffle aioli, can transform a simple patty into an upscale burger, while offering extra value to the guests, who can then be charged accordingly. Unique mustards and relishes also add a different spin to a classic burger.

As new burger chains spring up across Canada (and more U.S. burger chains expand north), it’s more important than ever for today’s restaurant operators to provide unique quality burgers. By capturing the imagination of burger consumers, operators can seize a share of a growing market that is expected to continue well into 2013.

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