As burgers remain a popular menu item, diners are looking for innovative riffs on the classic dish, with 35% of consumers saying it’s important that concepts offer burgers with new and unique flavors in Technomic’s 2017 Burger and Consumer Trend Report, powered by Ignite. As burger preferences shift, operators are experimenting with different toppings and flavors to keep the staple top of mind for consumers.
1. Burgers for breakfast
Although burger consumption has decreased during lunch and dinner hours, it remains steady during breakfast, with 18% of consumers eating a burger for breakfast once a month, says the Technomic report. Longview Independent School District in Longview, Texas, is among those offering the option. Director for Childhood Nutrition Phyllis Dozier says the district added burgers to the breakfast menu during the 2016-17 school year.
“We like to find ways for the students to be able to relate to their meal,” Dozier says. It comprises sausage, egg and cheese on a hamburger bun. “Whataburger serves a sandwich called ‘breakfast on a bun,’ so if we tell them the sandwich resembles that, they are more likely to take it.” While the burger is offered throughout the district, Dozier says it’s more popular with middle and high schoolers. She’s looking to test out new burger options with older students this school year, including taco, pizza and Western iterations.
2. Toppings go global
Half of consumers say a variety of toppings is important when seeking out burgers. At Michigan State University in East Lansing, Mich., Corporate Executive Chef Kurt Kwiatkowski says students’ burger preferences have evolved to include toppings like chile aioli and cucumber on a Thai burger, or the Hawaiian-themed Big Kahuna Burger, which features pineapple, Spam, teriyaki glaze, an over-easy egg and onion straws. “Their palates have become much more global, and they are willing to step outside the box to try different toppings and ingredients,” he says.
The burger options are just as diverse at Emporia Presbyterian Manor, a senior living community in Kansas. “We create our hand-crafted burgers for catering per client request,” says Johny Patwary, director of dining services. “We have served [an] all-beef hamburger topped with pickled onion chutney and smoked goat cheese, [and] a beef-and-turkey-blend burger stuffed with over-easy egg, dressed with avocado honey aioli.” Patwary says his residents “are more than willing to try a new flavor profile.”
3. Beyond beef
One of the more recent additions to Michigan State’s menu is a blended burger that features somewhat traditional toppings. The mushroom-and-beef patty is dusted with campus-grown dried oyster mushrooms, Gruyere cheese produced at the school’s dairy, tomato-onion jam, and spring mix provided by its organic farm. While the burger is only available at MSU’s food truck, Kwiatkowski says his team hopes to add it to eateries across campus.
“[While] playing with different flavors with our burgers and sandwiches has been met with a positive response across campus, we still offer a burger and cheeseburger, and those are popular as well,” he says. “I think there is a lot to be said for a real well-made burger with all the right flavors.”