In the old days, a burger was made of beef, end of story. But these aren’t the old days anymore.
Today’s burgers are crafted with everything from lamb and pork to portobello mushroom caps to turkey—and that’s the way consumers want them. And these alternative burgers are just as creative and craveable as any traditional burger.
Demand for better burgers is rising, but so is the cost of beef and the number of competitors. In addition to such fast-casual players as Shake Shack and Five Guys, more full-service restaurants are adding specialty burgers to their menus in segments as diverse as casual and family-style dining as well as steakhouses and other premium dining destinations.
According to recent data from Technomic, the price of ground beef will continue to rise in 2016, further disrupting the burger industry. That disruption has trickled down to consumers: Burger consumption is down slightly from 2013.
In addition, diners are always looking for something new and exciting. This combination of factors means that alternative patties are proliferating, broadening the range of need states that burgers can satisfy.
“We know that attitudes toward food are evolving as consumers look for better-for-you fare that they can feel good about eating,” says Deanna Jordan, manager, consumer insights, for Technomic. “This is particularly true among younger consumers who we see increasingly looking for variety and opportunity for customization in their foodservice choices. [Non-beef burger options] such as turkey can set a menu apart, create a memorable experience and drive cravings.”
That’s exactly the reason the Eric Schildroth, co-owner, chef and general manager of Thurston’s Wicked Good Burgers and Frozen Custard in Portland, Maine, added new burgers to the menu lineup. The restaurant’s custom blend of three different cuts of certified Angus beef helped to popularize the concept, but customers were asking Schildroth (aka “Chef Schilley”) for some alternatives.
Turkey was one answer—specifically, all-white meat mixed with ground onions, peppers, garlic, jalapeno, honey and bread crumbs for additional flavor and a satisfying texture. “I tweaked it until I got it just right,” says Schildroth. “Turkey has better texture and color than chicken, and it’s much more forgiving to cook.”
The item captures about 8 percent of sales and brings in additional customers. “You need alternative burger choices these days, with diets changing so much,” says Schildroth, who also subsequently introduced a vegetarian roasted chickpea burger as well as a vegan option made with black beans. “It’s very important to accommodate that. But I don’t just have a turkey option, I’ve got a great turkey burger, with distinctive flavor, texture and juiciness.”
Alternative burgers are also very versatile. They can be seasoned or topped with the same variety of ingredients that enhance traditional beef patties, but the neutral, somewhat delicate flavor of a turkey patty also lends itself well to such signature toppings as wild mushrooms, prosciutto or specialty cheeses.
The Counter, one of the first burger chains to promote Custom Built Burgers, offers ground turkey as one of its six patty options, to be built to spec with literally dozens of cheeses, sauces, regular and premium toppings, buns and accompaniments—literally anything goes, from feta and sun-dried tomatoes on a ciabatta to steak sauce and a sunny side-up egg.
Inspired menu items such as these prove that for operators, alternative burger patties can be a win-win, offering a healthier option for customers that’s still delicious and craveable.
This post is sponsored by Butterball Foodservice