Friday, 2nd March, 2018
Sales of burgers have reached a whopping £3.28bn in the UK and the popularity of the gourmet burger has helped propel the sector into the limelight. Originating in the states, this easy to eat, fully customisable ‘staple’ of any good fast food menu has become so much a part of our culture that we can almost claim them as our own. Burgers offer tasty but not too challenging alternatives to British dishes, can be dressed to include so many delicious flavours, and represent comfort food to many. Shake Shack and Five Guys have made their intention to delve further into the UK burger market quite clear and many more major players are planning their arrival into the UK sector, such as California burger chain The Habit Burger who plan to bring their brand to the UK this year. Meanwhile UK institution Wimpy have also revealed plans to open new sites up and down the UK. The fast food brand originally had over 500 outlets across the UK with a restaurant in every town and city, but the arrival of McDonald’s sparked a decline in the 80s.
The company has since been busy upgrading many of its existing 79 restaurants and has plans to open seven new operations over the next 12 months, while continuing to seek new franchisees.
Born in London in 1954 and proud of its British heritage, Wimpy successfully taps into the memory bank of the baby boomers, while continuing to please new generations with its menu classics such as the Wimpy Hamburger.
“We see this investment and refurbishment programme as a marathon, not a sprint,” commented Chris Woolfenden General Manager of Wimpy UK.
“We aren’t looking to achieve overnight success, instead we’re taking a steady and thoughtful approach which befits such a much-loved heritage brand,” he continued. “We offer a different experience to other fast food outlets, what we do has always worked well for us and we will continue with that tradition.”
The new classic
However, as consumers become more sophisticated in their food knowledge and choices, they are demanding higher quality and healthier versions of their favourite dish.
“The versatility of burgers and their ability to be adapted to developing food trends has established these American dishes as casual dining classics,” says Tom Styman-Heighton, Development Chef at Funnybones Foodservice.
In fact in 2017 burgers were the number one meal served at dinner time, and are set to remain one of the nation’s favourite dishes in 2018
“Customers continue to seek unique offers that differ from the traditional cheese burger,” adds Jane Deegan, Marketing Manager at Kara who have been baking for foodservice since 1985.
“As consumers seek out more creative menu listings chefs are now dressing burgers with adventurous flavour profiles,” adds Jane. “Adding spicy salsas and pouring gooey cheeses but still accommodating to all dietary requirements.
“Over summer 2018 loaded burgers are set to continue to excite the taste buds; and vendors need to invest in premium quality ingredients including the burger bun to accompany these top dishes.”
Operators such as The Habit Burger have also announced their intention to enter the UK burger market, another sign perhaps that the hunger for specialist burger restaurants is still on the rise.
This is despite chains such as Byron Burger closing many stores, partly down to the upheaval in the UKs economic climate that came with the arrival of Brexit.
The UK burger market is undeniably saturated with US burger chains and consumer’s tastes for loaded, triple stacked burgers, packed with sauce, pickles and fresh salads is only increasing.
Five Guys are another notable US entrant into the UK market, their handmade triple cooked fries served alongside their cooked to order burgers, have ensured their stamp on the UK burger scene is well and truly noted. Often seen as a ‘level-up’ from US imports such as McDonalds and Burger King the chain consistently achieves the moniker of the most popular burger restaurant in the UK.
“Five Guys was built on a couple of very simple principals; cook perfect burgers and fries, keep our restaurants unbelievably clean and take care of our crew and customers,” says
“When we opened our very first London restaurant on July 4th 2013, we were the favourite American burger in the US, and have now, for two years running has been voted the UK’s favourite fast food restaurant.
UK CEO John Eckbert attributes this success to the fact that there is a huge demand in the UK for the ‘Better Burger’.
“There are over 250,000 possible ways to order a burger – in fact it would take approximately 684 years to try them all.
“Five Guys has an array of 15 topping for customers to choose from and customise the burger they want, we are incredibly pleased with our business in the UK.
Mr Eckbert adds: “And coming out as the number one F&B brand in last year’s Times newspaper’s Virgin FastTrack 100, which tracks a company’s growth was evidence that the UK loves Five Guys!”
It seems that the UK burger market is far from stale and improving your menu to compete with the UKs biggest specialist burger restaurants is something that should be considered.
We speak to some of the UKs biggest manufacturers to find out how you can improve your burger offering.
• Simon Cannell, Speciality Breads, Managing Director
• Michelle Stapleton, Brand Manager, Kepak Frozen Division
• Sam Walker, Business Development Manager at Biopac (UK) Ltd
• Nic Townsend, marketing manager UK & Ireland, Farm Frites
• Tom Styman-Heighton, Development Chef, Funnybones Foodservice
• Steve Morris, Sales Director, Jestic Foodservice Equipment
• Clare Moulson, UK Marketing Executive, Huhtamaki Ltd.
• Jane Deegan, Marketing Manager, Kara Foodservice.
• Paul Siouville, Buffalo Brand Manager, Nisbets PLC
• John Eckbert, CEO, Five Guys
• Mohammed Essa, Commercial Director, Aviko UK & Ireland
How important are burgers to the QSR market and why?
“The rise and rise of the burger has coincided with the general move away from fine dining to the casual sector,” says Tom-Styman-Heighton. “With its’ talent for the ubiquitous, the burger has become the flagship for the premium quality, relaxed dining style that has become the most fashionable and prolific part of the restaurant industry.
“Going gourmet? Choose a burger. Going Vegan? Choose a burger. Going spicy? Choose a burger.
Adding; “Whatever style of meal you are looking for you will find a burger to match your mood.”
It is a fact that burgers remain one of the most ordered dishes in the UK, and are an easy and convenient hand-held option for diners to on-the-go. Michelle Stapleton, Brand Manager for Kepak’s Frozen Division – who provide meat to the foodservice industry - says this makes them an obvious attraction for the QSR market.
“The NPD Group expects burgers to lead growth both in visits and consumer spend, with outlets that serve quick-service burgers predicted to see visits grow by +5.1% in 2018 and a further +4.5% in 2019,” explains Michelle.
“Similarly, casual dining chains are forecast to increase visits by +2.8% in 2018 and +2.7% in 2019.”
Consumers aged 18-24 are the biggest group of customers pushing this trend, and their search for new and innovative ways to eat make the easily personalised burger an obvious attraction.
“What’s more – American food is renowned for its great taste, making a varied range of classic US inspired dishes staple items on hot snack menus,” adds Michelle.
Let’s not forget burgers are for many businesses, the staple of a QSR offering. Quick, simple and relatively cheap to produce, enhanced with any number of toppings, flavours and sauces, when produced correctly, burgers not only deliver significant margins for a business but also ensure a growing audience of loyal customers who return on a regular basis.
Steve Morris, Sales Director at Jestic Foodservice Equipment explains; “As caterers see the benefits of serving burgers, demand for quality, consistency, flavour and variation has fuelled the recent popularity rise for the humble meat dish.
“The inclusion of different meats, toppings, ingredients, flavours and colours has all added to the demand for standout burger dishes on menus from fast food chains to gastro-pub offerings.”
What toppings and sides can vendors add to their menu to make sure they are keeping up with consumer trends?
Recent research from Horizons found that customer spend is being boosted by focusing on more side dishes, snacks and nibbles – of which chips and potatoes form an important part according to Mohammed Essa, Commercial Director, Aviko UK & Ireland.
“Quick service restaurants that consider this carefully and offer innovative options alongside their burgers will reap the rewards when it comes to profits,” says Mohammed.
“We’ve seen topped fries grow in popularity throughout the UK and expect this to expand further into a whole host of premium ‘loaded fries’ menu options.
Mr Essa adds; “The beauty of adding toppings is that the options are endless – operators can very simply avoid menu fatigue and trade up their fries to create a real point of difference, as well as a higher mark-up.”
Another important consumer trend for operators to make the most of is sweet potato. Aviko’s research shows that 85% of UK consumers would choose a sweet potato side over a regular potato dish.
“The findings show the popularity of sweet potato is likely to increase with a staggering 66% of UK consumers thinking there are currently not enough sweet potato options available,” says Mohammed.
In fact Aviko predict that due to the huge growth in popularity of Sweet Potato Fries - and while demand remains high – they also expect to see sweet potato appearing on menus in different forms.
With 54% of consumers seeing customisable toppings as indicative of a ‘gourmet’ burger (Mintel), getting the optional extras right is key to giving your customers a premium offer.
“Toppings such as pulled pork and bacon adds extra theatre to the offering, and tasty cheeses, flavoursome relishes and pickles are great add-ons to make dishes stand apart from the competition,” says Michelle Stapleton.
“Additionally, using a named local cheese or relish that customers recognise can allow operators to raise product quality and demand a higher price by putting a local spin on their offering.”
“Salsas are also a vital part of the offering, and alongside the traditional tomato or corn salsa, for a sweet change, we recommend our pineapple and peach salsas,” adds Tom.
At Farm Frites they are starting to see a shift in focus on the ‘humble’ potato. The well-loved side dish is beginning to take centre stage as a more considered side dish; perhaps even a meal in its own right.
“As a personalised side-dish, chips are ideal and we see our Ultimate Chip and Sweet Potato fries gaining popularity as a more premium accompaniment to burgers,” says Nic Townsend, marketing manager UK & Ireland, Farm Frites.
This style of chip is perceived to be more premium than standard fries. They can be creatively presented with toppings and sauce options and consumers can personalise these elements.
“Sweet potato is a win-win for operators as it is a prevailing strong trend and can command a premium price over a standard chip,” adds Nic. “This allows operators the chance to benefit from mark up on a relatively cost-effective item.”
Simon Cannell, Speciality Breads, Managing Director thinks that the sheer amount of flexibility being offered to consumers in terms of customisation and ‘make your own’ options – will continue to grow as more operators introduce these options.
“These types of menus create really excitement from consumers at the table, often end up on social media and the customer pays a little bit more depending on the bread, toppings and the amount of it they want.
“Our 5-strong frozen brioche roll range are perfect for operators looking to introduce these types of menus as they offer variety and visual appeal but most of all supreme taste quality.
Adding; “Whether it’s our sesame-seed topped roll with a chicken burger, our black pepper variant with an Angus steak burger, our rustic brioche with a pulled pork-topped masterpiece, you can taste the difference and so can the consumer.”
Burger presentation is key, what options are there available to ensure burgers & sides are presented at their best?
According to Kara Foodservice for a burger to get top marks the foundations need to be right, and the carrier is the most important element of any burger foundation.
Kara, the foodservice brand of The Finsbury Group, offer a full variety of Burger buns, including ‘The Gourmet Range’ which offers a mixture of brioche and soft, sweet buttery flavours with glazed tops, allowing them to hold up against any succulent juices that may run once a loaded burger has been bitten into.
This makes them a diverse bun capable of adopting to any style of burger whether it’s a piled high traditional British Bacon Blue to an in vogue Tex Mex burger.
Big Al’s has recently announced the launch of its latest innovation, the Chuck & Brisket Prime Burger, made with 100% grass–fed beef, fully traceable from farm to fork. This behemoth of a burger is juicy and full of flavour; delivering a premium taste and flavour experience, allowing operators to tap into the high-end, gourmet burger market.
“With insight showing that 52% (Mintel) of those who have eaten burgers from a QSR would trade-up to a more premium burger, the Prime Burger has been developed to meet consumer desire whilst supporting operators in delivering quality, on-trend dishes, whilst guaranteeing consistency of serve,” explains Michelle Stapleton.
“As one of the leading suppliers of frozen burgers, Big Al’s set out on a mission to offer their customers a better burger. Industry trends from the United States, the home of burgers, revealed that that the desire for ‘better’ burgers is on the rise and named cuts were a perceived as a sign of quality for consumers,” adds Michelle.
Back home in the UK with the rise of instagrammable food, bigger burgers have also become more popular with “messy burgers” served on sweet, buttery brioche buns popular in casual dining and more premium table service restaurants.
“Paired with Big Al’s expertise in producing premium beef cuts from our Origin Green approved Kepak-Farm and the brands heritage for added value meats, the Prime Burger proposition will enable Big Al’s customers to be first to market with a truly unique offer,” adds Michelle.
Darragh Gillhawley, Head of Business Development UK at Big Al’s, comments; “Initial trials have seen that foodservice operators have seen a 10% uplift in footfall and burger sales with a 19% uplift in cash margin and strong repeat purchase. We have tried to make this as easy as possible for the operator. For the packaging, the premium burger wraps included with the burger in the outer case.
“Research shows 26% of consumers want a greater selection of burger toppings (Mintel), and this product allows operators to create custom-made burgers that look just as delicious as they taste. We’ve created four different serve suggestions, including a Mexican Burger and a Prime Smokestack, but the menu options really are endless. Simply put, the Prime Burger really packs a punch.”
Big Al’s has also developed a suite of marketing point of sale and marketing material, complete with online marketing content, detailed video recipe tutorials, and front of house assets to ensure operators hit the ground running with this exciting new concept.
Burgers need to be kept warm, in packaging which makes the burger look good and prevents the bun from becoming soggy and the old style polystyrene burger boxes are poorly insulated, causing the box to sweat and the bun to become soggy.
According to Sam Walker, Business Development Manager at Biopac (UK) Ltd corrugated board is the best alternative due to its insulation and breathability qualities.
“The standard corrugated burger boxes are however made from a very thick board which comes flat packed so each individual box needs to be assembled,” adds Sam.
“This is not ideal for a quick service food outlet where time is of the essence. So, Biopac have come up with a new solution - Microflute burger boxes. These are made from a very fine corrugated board with the same insulating and breathable qualities but more pliable and easier to use.
“Made from FSC approved virgin material and fully recyclable, it also has great environmental credentials.”
To stand out against the crowd, you need to step away from what everyone else is doing – especially in a crowded marketplace. Presentation is everything, from the packaging it is served in, to the way it is presented in the box when the customer opens it.
“Many of our customers, who have been looking to source packaging for their burgers, have said the standard corrugated burger boxes are too small,” says Sam. “A high quality ‘gourmet’ burger tends to be a lot taller nowadays.
“Finding the right size packaging is key. You don’t want to crush the burger to make the box fit. Equally, you don’t want the burger to look too small and rattle around.”
Ideal for serving grab and go snack choices such as hot and tempting burgers, is the new Relish range of products from Huhtamaki.
The attractive range offers folding carton products that will hold a variety of hot food and that will allow operators to serve food quickly and securely for eating on-the-go. The Relish clamshell is the perfect container to hold a burger. It offers a secure solution for consumers who want to quickly order, pick up their food and eat on-the-go, with minimum fuss.
The grease proof lining will ensure the outside of the clamshell is kept grease free, ensuring that consumers will receive their food in optimum condition
All of the products in the Relish range are grease proof lined and made with 100% PEFC paperboard, they contain recycled content and they are recyclable. Relish comes as standard in ‘on-trend’ kraft brown board but other options are available.
What is necessary for setting up a burger focused business?
Getting the marketing right is vital. In a market surrounded by brands, adverts and consumerism, caterers need their offer to be bold and instantly recognisable according to Michelle.
“Operators are increasingly having to cater for a variety of different consumer needs however they all have one expectation in common – they want to buy the complete dining experience.
“Big Al’s created the Concepts Guide to outline the variety of innovative branded food concepts it can deliver. Whether the outlet is just starting a food offering or building upon an existing proposition, Big Al’s has created a series of support packages that can be tailored to meet any business’ needs and customer expectations.”
Big Al’s is known for delivering great tasting burgers, and the Big Al’s Burger Bar concept is an extension of this.
Michelle adds: “Perfect for the QSR market, as well as education, leisure, stadia and food to go channels, the Big Al’s Burger Bar has been designed to enable operators to tap into the gourmet burger trend - a huge opportunity for operators to capitalise upon.”
To make the most of the opportunity presented by burgers, caterers should consider using quality, seasonal ingredients, a fresh bread rolls or brioche bun and where possible, homemade burger patties created from the finest cuts of meat, blended with a delicious mix of herbs and spices.
“Having created a bespoke recipe, it is equally important to consider the cooking method and how this will impact on the flavour, the texture and how the cook time will impact on service during busy periods,” says Steve Morris.
Grilling offer the traditional taste and texture associated with a burger, but can lead to the meat drying out if overcooked or not served straight from the grill.
“At Jestic, we’re committed to supporting QSR businesses with the latest technology and catering equipment for their business,” adds Steve.
“Designed specifically for holding cooked food items, such as burgers, over an extended period, the Jestic portfolio includes Winston CVap Hot Holding equipment. Allowing for greater control and flexibility, the CVap range enables operators to maintain output, even during peak periods.
“By controlling the temperature and humidity levels within the holding cabinet, businesses can deliver significantly increased yields, decrease wastage and achieve a greater product consistency.
Furthermore, the technology created for the CVap range allows the user to safely cook high risk meat products, including the ‘pink burger’ before holding them in line with the regulated ‘FSA 6-log 10’ cook times and temperatures, without adversely affecting the colour and texture of the product.
Steve adds: “As the trend for ‘pink burgers’ continues to dominate both the industry and the news, it’s become essential that businesses consider how to comply with regulation, something which, when cooked correctly, can be achieve with the Winston CVap Hot Holding range from Jestic Foodservice Equipment.”
Cook from scratch
“Making fresh burgers from scratch and highlighting this on menus is great way for operators to create a buzz around their dishes and to increase overall sales,” says Paul Siouville, Buffalo Brand Manager of Nisbets PLC.
Whilst a classic hamburger will always prove popular, recent years have seen the appearance of an increasingly inventive range of intriguing burger recipes, such as venison or salmon burgers.
“Making from scratch gives chefs the ability to be creative, whilst adapting their recipes to a wide range of dietary needs, which is becoming ever more important as increasing numbers of diners suffer from allergies or choose to avoid certain foods as part of a lifestyle choice,” says Steve.
“The Buffalo Manual Hamburger Machine from Nisbets is the perfect tool for operators looking to make burgers from scratch for the first time.
“Made from anodized aluminium which is easy to clean, this hand operated burger making machine will allow operators to produce high quality burgers of the same size and shape every time, ensuring they are able to deliver consistency across their menu.”
What does the future hold for the growing burger market?
Burger chains have dominated the fast food market for many years, and according to Tom Styman-Heighton the desire for higher quality, premium burgers has encouraged independent traders to enter the market.
“They can offer the best quality with the most innovative, on trend and interesting toppings and sides, taking the humble burger to a new level that is exciting for consumers,” adds Tom.
The best place to look for inspiration for gourmet American dishes is to the US itself, as the trends that surface there often make their way directly across the pond.
“That’s exactly what we do at Funnybones Foodservice, and as a specialist wholesaler of American and Tex-Mex foods, we are uniquely qualified to uncover the best of authentic cuisine in the Americas. We are quick to identify the trends that are taking off in the States and stock the products that are likely to be heading our way.”
Funnybones research has found that currently in the States, burgers made with protein other than beef, such as chicken and fish are broadening the appeal of the dish, as are vegetarian and vegan burgers which are at the forefront of the move towards plant based diets. Unusual and exotic vegetables are being combined to create very tasty, meat-like burgers that pack a flavour punch.
“The jerk burger may be next on the menu, in line with the anticipated trend for foods from the Caribbean,” says Tom.
Funnybones’ Jamaican Jerk BBQ marinades, seasoning pastes and cooking sauces are spicy and full of flavour – perfect for flavouring a burger. Serve with our sweet potato fries and our Encona West Indian Hot Pepper Sauces.
“Also hot in America at the moment is the brunch burger, featuring an egg on top perhaps with spinach and avocado toppings. And Greek flavours are making an appearance, with olive, tzatziki and feta garnishing some lamb burgers!”
According to Jane Deegan vegan dishes increased on menus by 107% last year, and in 2018 Kara don’t see the growth of vegan burgers slowing.
“As vegan dishes are becoming more mainstream, consumer perception of vegan food is rapidly changing, and burgers are no exception to this foodie trend,” says Jane.
“Consumers are seeking plant based burgers with mouth-watering toppings, and with these juicy burgers there can be no exception with the bun.
“Kara’s burger buns cater to a wide variety of dietary requirements, including both vegan and vegetarian, and, still offering the same quality, whilst also being free from artificial preservatives; vendors can keep ahead of the vegan revolution this year with Kara,” concludes Jane.