The gourmet burger trend has been under way for well over a decade now. According to an article in QSR magazine, it started in 2001 when Chef Daniel Boulud introduced the universe to the “db Burger”: foie gras and braised short ribs stuffed inside of a sirloin patty. It only cost 32 big ones (Yikes.)
Foie gras-stuffed inside of sirloin sounds hard to top, but other cutting-edge chefs remained undaunted and rose up to satisfy the demand for more pulchritudinous patties (yeah I said it) and thus began the gourmet burger craze. In today’s fast-paced environment, most trends do not last for more than ten seconds, never mind ten years (remember silly bandz? Didn’t think so.), so restaurateurs would be smart to question whether gourmet burgers are here to stay. However, recent studies by research firm Technomic indicate that the public is not growing tired of grandiose ground beef creations. Far from it. Hamburgers + Innovation = America, people. We can’t get enough.
Across the board, the number of consumers who report that it is important or extremely important that their meat be hormone-free, antibiotic-free, naturally-raised, grass-fed, locally-raised, organic and vegetarian-fed has risen over the past two years. Preference for hormone-free meat tops the chart at 45 percent, whereas preference for locally-raised meat has shown the most growth, up to 30 percent from 26 just two years ago.i
In another study, Technomic explored what words convince consumers to spend more on burgers. Topping that list is “Premium,” with 39 percent of respondents reporting that they would spend five percent or more on such a burger. This prompted the research firm to conduct a follow-up, to determine what, according to consumers, constitutes a premium burger. Sixty-nine percent of respondents completely agree or agree that a high-quality cut of meat is what makes a premium burger, while 65 percent believe that burgers featuring a high-quality type of beef should also be considered premium.ii
The growing demand for high-quality burgers explains the recent phenomenal success of businesses such as Smashburger, which bank on the “better burger” model. Smashburger uses only 100% Angus beef and their sales and locations are both growing rapidly. The company started with just seven locations in 2007 and currently boasts more than 150, and their company-wide sales grew by three percent in 2011 alone.iii
All of the evidence suggests that gourmet burgers are still a great idea and a wise investment. If you’re thinking of adding a baroque beefsteak to your menu but are struggling to come up with an idea, take a look at some of the new, exciting and innovative burgers around the nation for inspiration:
- Houston-based restaurant Pondicheri has a fish masala burger on the menu that sounds rather delectable. It features pan-seared seasonal fish, coconut chutney, tomato kasundi and pickled onions on brioche toast.
- San Francisco’s Zuni Café makes what is described on the menu as a “house-ground grass-fed beef hamburger on grilled rosemary focaccia with aïoli and Zuni pickles.” This burger, conforming to the nation’s penchant for customization, can be optimized with Beecher’s Flagship cheese, Bayley Hazen blue cheese, grilled onions, portobello mushrooms, marinated olives or shoestring potatoes.
- Kuma’s Corner, hailing from Chicago, created the Black Oak Arkansas burger which boasts red wine barbeque sauce, bacon, aged white cheddar and Alpha King-battered shallot rings. Mmm.
All in all, innovation is the key. Technomic predicts that consumers seeking a twist on something familiar will be the number one restaurant trend for 2012.iv Nothing is more familiar than the all-American hamburger, yet creative-minded chefs have shown that it still has limitless trend-setting potential.