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Gourmet fast food

With the number of fast food establishments soaring and consumers eating out much more frequently, convenient, tasty, fast food is more popular than ever. Alongside traditional fast food offerings of burgers, pizzas and hotdogs, QSR’s are now upping their game and offering consumers improved versions of the classics. Taking the lead from the rise of gourmet fast food, which has taken the casual dining market by storm, fast food as we know it is much more sophisticated.

From burgers with ricotta salata and pickled zucchini, sandwiches featuring chipotle mayo and grilled onion, to hotdogs smothered in longhorn cheddar, refried beans and pickled jalapeños, the gourmet fast food options available to operators are endless. 

The rise of fast casual restaurants offering specialised gourmet food, such as The Gourmet Burger Kitchen, is an indicator of current consumer eating trends.  Five Guys (recently voted the number one fast food provider in the UK), Shake Shack and Smash Burger are some other examples of the rising stars capitalising on the gourmet food industry.  The UK is embracing the ‘posh’ burger and operators can boost their bottom line with more luxurious ingredients, taking the lead from specialist gourmet restaurants.   

Interestingly, despite the popularity of GBK and Smash Burger compared to the broader foodservice market, their outlet numbers pale in comparison. Therefore, despite numerous threats to traditional fast food chains, such as the rise of new operators, changes in consumer behaviour and concerns over health, fast food outlets continue to control and dominate the market.  Industry stalwarts McDonalds, KFC and Burger King for example operate thousands of restaurants between them in the UK alone.

Also, despite data from market research company Mintel (2016) suggesting that 7% of users have switched to gourmet restaurants, as well as the fact that this figure rises to 12% in the 16-34 age bracket (the fast food industry’s most influential demographic), the general instability of the gourmet restaurant market as a whole is worth noting. 

Last month, the Handmade Burger Company entered into administration, as 9 of its 29 outlets were closed.  Also, fellow gourmet burger chain Byron has considered cutting costs by shutting down some of its branches.  Currently with debts of £45 million, this popular burger bar chain could fall victim to some of the factors putting pressure on this sector, such as rising food costs and the introduction of the national living wage, which could raise the income of those on the minimum wage by 10.8%. 
Other gourmet burger outlets to falter under economic strain and changing consumer trends were The Fine Burger Company (which now operates one branch under Prime Burger) and Tootsies.  The latter closed in 2008 and was acquired by The Clapham House Group, a previous owner of The Gourmet Burger Kitchen (now owned by Famous Brands), which is one of the few gourmet chains to continue to experience growth.

However, despite this, casual dining has seen a resurgence as a whole in the UK.  With gourmet burger chains falling into this category, recent data from the NPD Group (May 2017) suggests that casual dining has seen sales increase by 6% to £5.3 billion while visits grew by 4.7%, hitting 520 million visits, an improvement of some 24 million over the previous year. 

According to Jeremy King, CEO and Founder of Attest Market Research, the market as a whole is open to change, he explains, “There are a wealth of new trends and opportunities for continued innovation and growth in the food and drink industry.”

“This is particularly true with more affluent, urban and younger consumers, where trends are evolving faster, with greater values at stake. The winners will be organisations who have the ability to detect, explore and act on each of these evolving consumer needs, at an ever-increasing pace.

“It is time for food and drink companies to start evolving at the same pace as their consumers.”

The price is right

The price difference between a traditional fast food and a gourmet outlet, can be as much as 2x, with gourmet offerings generally using more expensive ingredients.  Therefore, with consumers continuing to spend on eating out at a rate that shows no sign of slowing down, operators who provide additional menu items with a fine dining twist alongside their own traditional options have seen success, capitalising on both the desire for gourmet casual dining and consumer demand for lower priced traditional fast food. 

For example, McDonalds, one of the largest fast food chains in the world, has seen high return from their ‘Signature’ collection, as have Domino’s pizza, who have introduced gourmet pizza options over the last few years.  At the time of the initial release of their ‘Domino’s Gourmet Range’ they confirmed that the range ‘had been specially developed to appeal to a different type of pizza-eater’ who are looking for a ‘lighter pizza with more distinctive flavours, akin to those you might find in a more traditional pizzeria.’
Replicating fine cuisine to sell to consumers less expensively is yet another turning point in the evolution of fast food.  Outlets from street food trucks to QSRs are capitalising on the fact that consumers will always turn to quality food at bargain prices, something that traditional fast food providers can easily deliver. 

Burgers and Hotdogs

The shining lights in the gourmet fast food market are without a doubt burgers and hot dogs.  Both are fully customisable and are the perfect ‘to-go’ option to market to fast food fans.  According to analysts Mintel, the premium burger market now accounts for sales worth more than £3bn a year.

“Consumers see freshly made burgers as the biggest marker of a gourmet burger venue, something that sets them apart, as this is not traditionally offered by fast food venues.” said Kiti Soininen, head of UK food and drink research at Mintel.

“Customisation is also a top expectation for gourmet offerings, in line with a more general demand for knowing what goes into one’s food and the trend for personalisation.”

A reason for their ready inclusion into the gourmet fast food market is that both burgers and hotdogs naturally lend themselves to the inclusion of higher quality ingredients. 

McDonalds, as mentioned, have upped the ante with regards to their burger choices; their signature range have more expensive ingredients and are targeted directly to a more discerning audience.  They have not only elevated the variety of ingredients on offer, but also the packaging, raising it above their more standard offerings.
Not only has the chain championed the gourmet burger, but they have also trialled table service worldwide and even cutlery at their French outlets.  It seems that McDonalds have decided to change the now considerably out-dated perception of ‘class-less’ and ‘unhealthy’ fast food chains. 

According to marketing chief of McDonald’s France, Xavier Royaux, the introduction of cutlery represents an “evolution,” much like the launch of table service (a step into the casual dining market), which is available in a huge 80%  of French McDonald’s, and at an increasing rate throughout the UK. 
Royaux commented “For a long time now we have seen a change in the burger market, a multiplication of offers among these the offers of gourmet burgers, so as a pioneer it is vital we position ourselves.”

The traditional home of fine dining, France is now embracing the fast food concept and in recent years burgers have become very popular.  The market is now worth 9.5 billion Euros (£830 million).  In fact, 75% of French restaurants now offer burgers on their menu and 80% of those restaurants say they have overtaken traditional ‘steak frites’ as the most popular dish.

However, at sometimes more than double the price, how can traditional operators ensure that these more expensive burger options appeal?

According to Tony Owen, Sales and Marketing Director of Rollover Dogs; “There will always be an indulgent side of the market that craves traditional fast food like burgers, pizza, fried chicken and hot dogs.  However, their focus has now shifted to adding higher value.”

“For example, food producers now use brioche rolls, now seen as an industry standard, or are personalising their products with toppings such as blue cheese, gherkins and indulgent sauces.  Therefore, fantastic, over-indulgent presentation is essential.”

Well-known for their exceptional gourmet burgers, Bleecker Burger has managed to remain at the forefront of the gourmet burger scene and has amassed a huge following.  Starting out in street food at Kerb, Streetfeast and the SouthBank Centre, they say that it is this experience that ‘shaped the character of their business.’  In 2015 they opened their first permanent shop (a burger kiosk in Old Spitalfields Market) and the rest as they say, is history. 

Described by some as ‘the best burgers in London’, Bleecker prides themselves on fresh, quality ingredients and their speedy service.  Liam O’Keefe, Brand Manager of Bleecker comments; “We’re making what was traditionally just restaurant quality food accessible with no reservations or dinner tie needed.  People are getting more information than ever on what they’re eating and we’re sitting pretty in the middle.”

Delivery giants

Without a doubt, the rise of delivery services such as Deliveroo and UberEats has increased the popularity of gourmet fast food.  Now, with many outlets offering restaurant quality food, it has never been easier to experience quality fast food in the comfort of your own home.  The option of ordering gourmet food from your favourite takeaway, and plating it up yourself, in the style of a gourmet restaurant is appealing to time poor consumers.

In fact, these delivery services are said to be pushing the gourmet fast food industry further, now even top restaurants offer delivery.  The demand for home delivery of takeaway food grew 10 times faster than for dining out last year, while total visits to restaurants and other dining venues rose by just 1%.  Deliveroo in the last 12 months has partnered with new restaurants weekly, with lulls throughout the day commonplace in the casual dining sector, it seems these restaurants are taking the lead from traditional fast food outlets. 

What role does gourmet fast food play in the food-to-go/quick service restaurant industry?

“Fast no longer equates to inferior and gourmet is increasingly the ‘go to’ option,” explains Monika Linton, Founder of Brindisa. 

“The use of quality ingredients that can be simply and quickly prepared has had a real impact on the industry - in terms of innovation and raising standards.”

Robert Burns, Marketing Controller at Westlers Hotdogs adds, “As consumer palettes are changing, with exotic flavours and ingredients being added to menus all the time, gourmet fast food allows the fast food sector to capitalise on the current trends and make them their own.”

“The food-to-go industry has done a very good job of putting its own stamp on gourmet, using high quality ingredients and exciting flavours but offering them in an easy-to-eat way with a relaxed setting that consumers are really engaged with right now.”

He concludes, “Gourmet also allows the food-to-go industry to tap into another current trend, ‘make it for me’, as more and more consumers are expecting to be able to tailor their meals to their personal tastes, gourmet fast food allows them to do this with a range of products and ingredients that might not necessarily be found in a more traditional outlet.”

“Gourmet fast food has become a huge area of foodservice, served constantly throughout the day with more trends and concepts arising all the time,” Fabien Levet, National Account Manager, Pidy UK explains.

“Previously, offerings may have been limited but now customers can choose anything from sandwiches, snacks and light bites to more substantial hot meals, and all sustaining an exceptional quality. Consumers want plenty of choice including classic comforts, healthy and wholesome options; all made using fresh, quality ingredients.”

He continues, “One of the most crucial elements to succeeding in this market is effective menu planning. Whether an offering features more traditional ‘fast-food’ such as burgers, chips and pizzas or keeps things a little lighter with grab-and-go style sandwiches, wraps, quiches and tarts, flavour, freshness, seasonality and consistency are key to a successful offering.”

Why is gourmet fast food growing in popularity among consumers?

Robert Burns explains, “Gourmet fast food seems to be growing in popularity for a number of reasons. It allows consumers to try a number of foods and ingredients in a casual and relaxed setting, which fits into our increasingly busy lifestyles.”

“We often see our customers having success with menu items that take a classic, high quality product such as Westlers Beechwood Smoked Frankfurters, and personalise them with a number of interesting and vibrant ingredients.”

He adds, “We host a number of serving suggestions on our website for our customers to use in their outlets, including “The Mexican” with Monterey Jack cheese, jalapenos and Westlers Multi Menu chilli con carne, or “The Montecristo”, which features an unusual pairing of Swiss cheese and strawberry jam.”

Gourmet fast food is a convenient and affordable indulgence, explains Monika.  She elaborates, “As a convenient and affordable indulgence, particularly for consumers who want to dine out without spending excessively, gourmet fast food is often responsible for setting new trends.”

“Consumers are looking for inspiring and authentic experiences and this has really driven the evolution of the sector.”

Fabien agrees; “Gourmet fast food has many advantages because it gives consumers the opportunity to try a variety of different types of food, all of which is made quickly, fresh to order with quality ingredients, while also being in a suitable format for eating on-the-go.”

With trends changing in foodservice all the time consumers are also becoming more demanding when it comes to flavour, as well as becoming more receptive to exotic flavours. 

Robert elaborates; “Spice has long been popular with British palates, but is moving into different formats.  Following the recent launch of the Hot Dog Report which suggested that consumers are happy to try hot dogs with different flavourings, particularly spice, Westlers will be launching a number of NPD starting with the Fiery Frankfurter, to capitalise on this demand.”

How can gourmet fast food outlets ensure their business stands out from competitors?

“My advice would be to do one thing really well,” begins Monika.  “We have been serving our world famous roll from Brindisa’s Chorizo Grill at Borough Market since 1999.”

“Featuring five high quality ingredients; spicy chorizo, fresh ciabatta, juicy piquillo peppers, crisp rocket leaves and a dash of Brindisa Arbequina extra virgin olive oil, its enduring popularity is testament to simplicity leading to longevity. Find the right formula, in the right location and customers will happily queue.”

Heather Beattie, Brand Manager for Nisbets Plc, can see an increased demand for grab and go choices as well as an increase in expectation of the quality of fast food.

She explains, “With many consumers now working longer hours and taking shorter lunch breaks, it’s hardly surprising that grab and go choices such as burgers, sandwiches, subs and baguettes have become so popular, but for operators looking to meet the increasing levels of demand without compromising on quality, having the right equipment in situ is essential.”

“As well as offering a wide range of choices and including healthier snack options, if they are to keep up with customer demand operators need to make sure that they can prepare and serve a menu of gourmet grab and go choices quickly, as customers looking for such options often don’t have much time to spare.”

Tony Owen, Sales and Marketing Director of Rollover Dogs adds, “Try not to over complicate your offering.  Stick with the basics, put a twist on it and make it ‘the best’.”

“Rollover has added to its range three gourmet sausages that fit all three of these criteria.  A Meister, Bratwurst and a Kracker German Sausage.”

Putting thought and attention into your menu by carefully choosing ingredients is one way to ensure that your products stand out.  Pidy offer an array of pastry products as an alternative to bread.  Fabien elaborates, “As the global leader in ready-to-fill pastry cases, Pidy manufactures a range of different products that offer a great alternative to standard carriers such as bread.”

“For a lighter yet authentic substitute, why not use one of the products from our choux range to ensure your menu really stands out? An Éclair filled with ham and rocket or Paris Brest with smoked salmon and cream cheese is the perfect ‘eat on the move’ savoury gourmet sandwich roll.”

Westlers have taken the gourmet hot dog concept to the next level, already offering an array of gourmet dogs which they have incorporated their new concept at Exeter based family attraction Crealy Park.

“With customers expecting more and more from their dining experience beyond simply a meal, outlets can capitalise on this and make sure every visit is one to remember and will likely result in repeat visits,” explains Robert.

“We developed the concept of the “Hot Dog Highway”, a place where you can fill up for the road, complete with bespoke POS, which encourages customers to pick from a set gourmet menu or personalise their hot dog to suit their own taste.”

Robert adds “Elevating the humble hot dog into an enaging and fun street-food staple in this way allows Crealy Park to offer their customers something special that appeals to their target audience and allows them to have their dog, just how they like it.”

Heather also notes the trend for ‘different styles of cuisine’ when it comes to grab and go choices, which will appeal to a broader range of customers. 

She explains, “There are some classics that operators should be sure to include in their snack menus such as burgers, sandwiches, subs and baguettes. Creating interesting fillings that are a little different from the usual choices, can be a great way for operators to make their grab and go choices a little more premium.”

“Menu options such as gourmet burgers, with extra decadent toppings for example will prove to be a popular choice. The Menumaster Speed Combination Oven CR853 from Nisbets is perfect for preparing tempting hot snacks such as these as well as vegetarian options.”

Demand from cafes, restaurants and caterers to find new and interesting ways to communicate with their customers has led to a high proportion of packaging being custom printed,” adds Becci Eplett, UK Marketing Manager of Global packaging specialists Huhtamaki.

“Choosing packaging such as Eatwell from Huhtamaki, which can be custom-printed, is a fantastic opportunity to build engagement with consumers, drive sales and generate (social media) publicity.”

“The opportunities for personalisation of packaging are extensive. Huhtamaki’s high quality print capabilities enable the use of detailed and colourful bespoke design on cups and on food containers and a significant proportion of our customers capitalise fully on the opportunities that this presents for their brands.”

“Huhtamaki is witnessing an increasing demand for digitally capable and web-linked design.  In response to this, we have recently launched a product called Adtone which enables a link between thermochromic (heat responsive) labelling on cups and the customer’s or a third party’s web and digital content.”

She concludes, “Packaging which is manufactured responsibly, that is innovative and functionally efficient and that can be disposed of with minimal environmental impact has a very bright future.”

What products are available to ensure that gourmet fast food products are presented at their best and how do you choose what’s right for your business?

Packaging in the food to go market is absolutely vital to get right.  This demand is even more paramount in the world of gourmet; consumers expect a different take on packaging.  Selecting the right packaging can elevate a gourmet burger into something special. 

Becci explains, “The demand for premium quality disposables which suit gourmet fast food has grown over the last few years and have led Huhtamaki to develop an extensive range of products to suit all types of food to help customers to enjoy an authentic street food experience, and serve food in contemporary food containers which allow for handheld eating on-the-go.”

“Packaging has significant importance in the delivery of gourmet fast food.  It must enhance the consumer experience by ensuring that its content is delivered looking and smelling temptingly delicious, at the right temperature and in perfect ‘freshly served’ condition. It should also be easy to open, to eat from and to dispose of responsibly.”

“Created to provide the market with a versatile and comprehensive disposable packaging solution suitable for a wide range of takeaway foods, Eatwell is one of the most extensive ranges available in the UK foodservice market, and is perfectly suited for gourmet fast food concepts; be it an Indonesian Rendang, sticky barbeque pulled pork, dumplings or a burrito.”

“Also, with increasing importance being placed on the provenance of food, local sourcing and farm to plate, consider applying the same prinicples to packaging.  Recent research undertaken by Huhtamaki showed the public’s willingness to support UK manufacturing, with 83%* of consumers wanting caterers to use disposable packaging which is made in the UK.  The ‘Eatwell’ range is made in the UK at Huhtamaki’s Gosport factory.”

Becci concludes, “Of the 68% of consumers who want to see ‘green’ credentials on packaging, 82% want to know if it’s recyclable.”

Ready made and pre-prepared options are also key to offering top quality to customers, every time as Fabien explains. 

“Having a ready made pastry to hand at all times is really helpful for operators who want to produce their own authentic baked goods but simply just don’t have the time to make pastry from scratch each day.”

He continues, “Pidy offer a variety of different products from pastry cases for quiches, sponge sheets for cakes and puff pastry sheets for sausage rolls, offering operators everything they need to create an exceptional selection of gourmet pastry delights. And being ambient products ensures that easy storage and long shelf life is always guaranteed.”

Nisbetts offer many catering solutions which help with the quick service consumers still expect despite the more complicated nature of a gourmet offering.  Heather explains, “An extremely powerful catering solution, the Menumaster will allow the rapid cooking of batches of food up to 15x faster than a convection oven, ensuring customers aren’t kept waiting, even during peak times, meaning it’s ideal for preparing a wide variety of hot snacks.”

“With space often at a premium within most commercial kitchens, multi-purpose pieces of equipment such as this are a great investment. Heavy-duty kit such as high speed combi ovens will allow establishments to roast, bake, steam, and grill and poach all with just one piece of equipment, in hardly any time at all.”

Tony adds, “At the moment over 50 billion is spent eating out of home in the UK.  That number does not seem to be declining and the gourmet fast food market is on trend to capture some of that.”

“If we carry on taking the basics and elevating them to the next level, the fast food market is set for a strong future.”

Tuesday, 1st August, 2017
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