2014 Burger Brackets Voting is Over

Congratulations to champion Burgatory! Thank you for casting a record 149,789 votes and thank you to A.1. Steak Sauce for making this year’s competition possible.
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More On QSR Menu ‘Recycling’

BK_BBQBaconWhopper2104As it happens, there’s more to the Burger King update than the Chicken Big King glossed in the previous post. Although the chain swears it’s not returning to its old too-many-new-products ways, Burger King has introduced two other new products: the BBQ Bacon Whopper and Honey BBQ Chicken Strips.

While new, these are consistent with Burger King North America President Alex Macedo’s earlier comment to me that the chain is trying to add limited-time products that don’t require new ingredients.

BK_HoneyBBQChickStrips2014When I asked Macedo if Burger King will continue to evolve the double-decker platform beyond Chicken Big King, he laughed and said, “Oh, we’re testing some new tricks.” Of course, he declined to explain further, but the Consumerist blog may have uncovered one possible next stage. It’s reporting that in one market Burger King is testing a $5.75 Mushroom & Swiss Bacon Whopper that it also reassembles as a $3.75 Mushroom & Swiss Big King.

What McDonald’s does with wraps, Burger King sees it can do with the Big King build: Deconstruct other products and repurpose the ingredients. McDonald’s recent Steak & Egg Burrito, for example, has all ingredients borrowed from previous items. In the same way, Burger King can take the ingredients of any of its Whopper builds (including the new BBQ Bacon Whopper) and use them for a new Big King version. A Mushroom & Swiss Bacon Whopper and a Mushroom & Swiss Big King. Two new sandwiches, no new SKUs. There’s an admirable efficiency to it all.

Burger King Builds a Chicken Big King

Burger King is introducing the Chicken Big King, a further evolution of the Big King burger it unveiled last November and then increased in size in February. The new sandwich’s build remains the same as with the previous two iterations—with lettuce, pickles, onions, American cheese and King sauce on a three-layer, toasted sesame-seed bun —just with two of the crispy chicken patties it uses for the Rodeo Chicken Sandwich on its King Deals Value Menu. The only build change is that three bun faces get a schmear of sauce, rather than two as with burgers, to keep the chicken moist.

Burger King's Chicken Big King

Burger King’s Chicken Big King

The original and bulked-up Big King burgers sold for a recommended price of $3.69. The Chicken Big King comes in under that at $3.59. The sandwich will be included in Burger King’s ongoing “2 for $5” promotion. “That has been very good for us,” Alex Macedo, Burger King North America president, told BurgerBusiness.com in an interview. “It has been a way for us to bring product news and product innovation to consumers at good value.”

TV advertising support launches on Saturday (4/19) when the sandwich begins rolling out to Burger King stores. Macedo said a multi-faceted digital-media push for the Chicken Big King will debut in a few weeks.

And before the gripes that the Chicken Big King is like McDonald’s Big Mac or a clone of KFC/Canada’s double-decker Big Boss sandwich, understand that Macedo and Burger King don’t care about “copycat” calls. Why not use a good idea? “There’s no point in not offering your guests something they like and appreciate,” he said. “With the Big King we took a familiar platform and we serve it with the fire-grilled taste everyone loves about Burger King. Sales have been strong, which tells us it was a good thing to offer to our guests.

“And with the Chicken Big King, we’re taking that platform and innovating on it. [The double-decker sandwich] is a widely known platform that has been relatively dormant over the past few years,” Macedo said. “We brought in the Big King and that created a lot of excitement. Now we’re bringing a second round with the Chicken Big King.”

McDonald's has tried a Chicken Big Mac overseas but not in the U.S.

McDonald’s has tried a Chicken Big Mac overseas but not in the U.S.

Using the Rodeo Chicken patty is consistent with Burger King’s strategic shift last year to introducing fewer new products and to simplifying kitchen operations. “This year, basically, we have introduced only four new products and we have done that with just one new SKU, the spicy chicken patty. A year ago we were introducing a bunch of [new] products with a lot of new SKUs and it was very confusing for our restaurant teams. It was difficult for our franchisees to manage profitability. We took a few steps back and tried to be more creative with on-hand ingredients and that’s what we’re doing here.”

That, he says, has improved store operations by adding efficiency and cutting waste. “Despite the weather challenges that everyone has had, we’re seeing increased profitability for franchisees, which is our ultimate goal.”

The Chicken Big King was tested in 100 Burger Kings in Indiana. “What the consumer told us was, ‘Wow. So obvious. How come it’s never been done before?’ Just with point-of-purchase marketing, consumers understood exactly what they were getting [with the Chicken Big King] because they know that build,” said Macedo. “If we have the same success [nationally] with the Chicken Big King that we had in test, we’re in a really good place.”

KFC Canada added a double-story Big Boss this year, but Burger King doesn't care who else has done anything similar. The idea sells.

KFC Canada added a double-story Big Boss this year, but Burger King doesn’t care who else has done anything similar. The idea sells.

To be fair, the idea has been done before, if not in the U.S. McDonald’s has offered a chicken version of its Big Mac as a limited-time special in several markets—especially in the Middle East and recently in Dubai—over the past several years. And KFC has the double-decker Big Boss chicken sandwich in Canada.

The triple-bun burger dates to Bob Wian and Big Boy restaurants in 1937. McDonald’s franchisee Jim Deligatti created the Big Mac in 1967. The Big Mac was untouched until 2009, when McDonald’s Canada operation deconstructed it for the Mac Snack Wrap.  That innovation came to the U.S. the following year.

In 2012, McDonald’s Germany created a Bigger Big Mac, 45% larger than standard. France last year copied that with Le Grand Mac. McDonald’s Japan introduced the four-patty Mega Mac last year and the chain’s Australian operation came up with a single- story Angus Mac.

McDonald’s has not messed with the Big Mac much in the U.S. When the chain used that Big Mac’s “special sauce” on this year’s Bacon Clubhouse burger, that alone raised some eyebrows among aficionados.

McDonald’s Brings McGriddles to Breakfast Battle

No other chain has something like the McGriddle, McDonald’s pancake/muffin hybrid, which likely is why the chain has followed the coffee giveaway that ended yesterday with a new marketing push for McGriddle sandwiches.

This, much more than free coffee, is McDonald’s response not only to Taco Bell’s entry into the breakfast market but also to all the other competitive activity in the mornings. If menu innovation is going to be key to the competition, McDonald’s gladly will put McGriddles up against Taco Bell’s Waffle Taco and A.M. Crunchwrap. Who wins? McDonald’s average per-store sales are $1 million+ higher than the average Taco Bell’s.

McD_McGriddle2014McDonald’s isn’t moving away entirely from its McCafé coffee. New TV advertising positions McGriddles as integral to the way some people take their coffee. Online promotion includes a site showcasing a series of life situations for which “Once you get a McGriddles, you’ll get it” is the recurring tagline.

Interestingly, creation of McGriddles in 2003 is credited to then-SVP of Menu Management Tom Ryan. He since has founded McDonald’s fast-casual competitor Smashburger.

Americans made 12.5 billion restaurant visits for breakfast last year, making the morning meal the only daypart showing traffic growth for the third consecutive year, according to NPD Group data. Breakfast visits were up 3% while traffic for both lunch and dinner declined by 1%. Breakfast accounts for 21% of customer visits, according to NPD. In terms of sales, breakfast can be even more significant, accounting for 25% (as at McDonald’s) or more. In the restaurant business’s slow-growth marketplace, those numbers mean breakfast is the time when gains in traffic and sales can be made, if at no other time.

That’s why there has been a flurry of new breakfast items. They haven’t come just to counter Taco Bell’s overanalyzed breakfast menu; more importantly they’re intended to increase share in what is now the most important daypart. Jack in the Box (which offers breakfast all day) last week added new Breakfast Melt sandwiches; Whataburger has added jalapeňo-spiked biscuits; Starbucks has a new line of upscale sandwiches.

McDonald’s Spain Promotes Local Beef

Add Extremadura to the list that already included Charolais, Piedmontese and Chianina. All are prized local cattle in European countries that have have become burgers under McDonald’s Corp.’s continuing local sourcing commitment for meat as well as produce.

Beef raised in the Extremadura region of southwest Spain that borders Portugal is featured in a new “Grand Extrem” line of limited-time burgers that McDonald’s is promoting in Spain.

McD_Spain_GrandExtrem

The Original has two patties of 100% Extremaduran beef plus Cheddar cheese, tomato, lettuce, red onion, mayo and ketchup. The double-patty BBQ Crispy has cheese, fried onions, tomato, lettuce, onion, mayo and barbecue sauce. The third double is the Grand Extrem Bacon, which has Gouda cheese, bacon, red onion and a bacon sauce.

Somewhat inexplicably, the TV commercial from agency TBWA/España, Madrid, that promotes the Grand Extrem burgers uses The Foundations’ 1968 hit “Build Me Up Buttercup” as its background. Watch it here.

The Extremaduran burgers follow several similar local-breed promotions by McDonald’s in Europe. In 2011, McDonald’s introduced a snack-size burger in France made with local Charolais beef. Last year, the chain unveiled a new burger in Italy made with local Piedmontese and Chianina beef.

In the UK, McDonald’s doesn’t spotlight breeds but does promote its local sourcing (about 60% of its beef is English; 40% is Irish). In the UK, Australia, the U.S., Argentina and several other markets, the chain has commercials and online videos introducing its local beef ranchers.

Wendy’s, Jack Ready Spring Chicken Menus

Wendy’s celebrates spring by continuing its romance with nontraditional burger buns. Later this month it will introduce nationally a Tuscan Chicken on Ciabatta sandwich that it tested last year. Wendy’s favorite cheese, Asiago, is back for the Tuscan sandwich, where it will be coupled with spring mix, tomatoes and garlic aïoli.Wendys_TuscanChicken

Jack in the Box also is in a “spring chicken” mindset: Tomorrow (April 10) it will introduce a Jack’s Blazin’ Chicken sandwich with a fiery ghost-pepper ranch sauce for a suggested $4.69, the company confirmed. Also on its spring menu are Sourdough Breakfast Melts (with egg and bacon or ham), priced at two for $3.50; a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Pie and new Vanilla and Caramel Iced Coffees.

These are just some of a wave of new items—several of them sporting trendy ingredients such as arugula, burrata and aïolis—heading for restaurant menus in the traditional post-Lent refresher phase. Those pesky fish sandwiches will leave to make room for more interesting and flavorful spring items.

Jacks Blazin Chicken Umami Burger’s spring menu includes a new Caprese Burger piled high with on-trend ingredients (roasted portobello mushroom cap, basil-almond pesto, burrata, heirloom tomato, wild baby arugula and truffled balsamic glaze).  A new turkey burger called The Springbird (with ricotta and goat cheeses, marinated portobello, braised kale and apple crema) joins the menu, along with a dessert called Arnold Palmer Bowl (green-tea ice cream, limoncello sorbet and a snickerdoodle cookie).

A new Fiesta Burger with guacamole, pico de gallo and jalapeňo salsa on a toasted brioche bun is one of more than 30 new items in the largest menu revamp in Hard Rock Café’s history. The overhaul included a complete reassessment of its burger line and added salads, sides, starters and more.

Jukebox Burgers' new Poutine Burger for spring.

Jukebox Burgers’ new Poutine Burger for spring.

It’s not just chains that are doing spring menu cleaning, of course. Burger bars are perking up their offerings as well. The “Moo Cluck Bloom” spring menu at Moo Cluck Moo burger bar in Dearborn Heights, Mich., features a Moo Bloom burger with herbed goat cheese aïoli, Berkshire bacon, watercress and an onion ring. Also new is The Tarragon Cluck chicken burger with grilled rapini, red cabbage slaw, Grana Padano cheese and arugula.

A new spring menu at Jukebox Burgers in Montreal includes a cheese-curd-topped Poutine Burger and a Breakfast Burger plus Fig and Walnut Salad and more. In Toronto, The Burger Cellar’s spring addition is a Watermelon Salad with kale, mint, Kalamata olives and jalapeňo.

It’s spring everywhere in the Northern Hemisphere, of course! Bread Meets Bread in Glasgow, Scotland, welcomes better (sort of) weather with a new line of what it calls Smash Hit Burgers. The star is a triple-patty burger with American cheese, lettuce, tomato pickle and sauce to which bacon, pastrami, pulled pork or brisket can be added for additional charges. That’s the way to welcome spring.

Technomic: Burger Chain Growth Peaks

Fast-casual chains such as Smashburgers have fared better than QSRs.

Fast-casual chains such as Smashburger have fared better than QSRs.

Sales by the top burger-menu chains was $72 billion in 2013 but nominal growth was just 1.2%, according to researcher Technomic. Inflation-adjusted sales show a decline last year. “Burger chains have finally reached maturity,” the company concludes in its latest report.

Technomic says the number of burger-chain locations increased by 1% in 2013. That’s in line with earlier research from The NPD Group that found the burger-chain unit count up just 0.4% last year. However, NPD, which tracks independents as well as chains, reported that the number of non-chain QSR burger units increased by a strong 7.2% last year.

Fast-casual burger concepts, not quick-service brands, grew the most last year, Technomic finds. Fast-casual burger chains posted a 10.4% sales growth, compared with just a 0.9% increase for QSR brands. Sales for fast-casual leader Five Guys Burgers and Fries were up 5% to $1.1 billion, but that contrasts with a 14% jump in 2012. Smashburger sales rose 32% to $214.9 million, thanks in part to the addition of 54 new locations, Technomic says.

Sales for top QSR burger chains totaled $69.7 billion in 2013, according to Technomic. As reported here earlier, the Top Five U.S. Burger Chains had aggregate sales last year of approximately $60.7 billion.

Burgatory Repeats as A.1. Burger Brackets Champ

The winner! Again!

The winner! Again!

Click for larger.

Click for larger.

For the second consecutive year, Burgatory has turned back all challengers to win the A.1. Burger Brackets trophy. The Pittsburgh burger-bar concept with two-and-a-half locations open (including a scaled down burgers and shakes stand in Consol Energy Center) and two more opening soon, defeated Texan burger chain Mooyah in the finals, but not without a close, tough fight. Mooyah’s supporters were relentless.

The annual Burger Brackets competition doesn’t determine which brand has the best burger. It was created as a way to show how strongly connected burger-lovers are to their favorite burger joint. They will vote again and again and not stop in their drive to proclaim their favorite place the very best. A total of 149,789 votes were cast during the tournament. The Brackets test devotion across three weeks and six rounds of voting. One brand wins. But 63 others also get to put their customers’ support on display. So all the brands that took part deserve congratulations. Nothing beats a great burger from a great burger joint.

Burgers of the Month for April 2014

Bucket List's Spring Burger

Bucket List’s Spring Burger

Spring! Remember spring? It’s coming back and many burger joints are celebrating its return with April Burger of the Month specials. Romers Burger Bar in Vancouver, BC wins best name with its Spring Chicken Burger. The Spring Burger at Bucket List Burgers in Riverside, Calif., is a beef patty nestled into—yes—spring mix. At Kooper’s Tavern the Spring Burger is Angus beef with goat cheese, watercress, fried green tomato and basil aïoli on a brioche bun. You’ll notice a lot of brioche buns on this month’s list. Is it the new pretzel bun?

There are some new burger joints from around the world making their debuts on this month’s list. Welcome to The Bronx Burger Bar, Copenhagen; Burger 25, Toms River, N.J.; Burger Monster, Victoria, Australia; The Cannibal Café, Vancouver, BC; Clarke’s Standard, New York City; Haché Gourmet Burgers, Copenhagen, Denmark; and TAG Burger Bar, Denver. Check out their specials!

8 Oz. Burger's Nacho Burger

8 Oz. Burger’s Nacho Burger

There are, as always, a few that merit special shout outs for creativity. One is Burger Shack in Whitehall, Pa. Its Catty Shack special works pierogies into the burger. That’s a first for me. Find it on the list. You don’t often see gyro meat on a burger, either, but leave it to Slater’s 50/50 to try it.

And then there’s 8 Oz. Burger & Co. in Seattle. Its Nacho Burger was an April Fool’s gag but you all make so many over-the-top burgers (see Giant Orange’s H-Bomb) that I believed it. Here’s the build: Four patties, five slices of American cheese, a can of chili, salsa, nacho cheese, lettuce, tomato, sour cream and a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos.

The list of April’s Burgers of the Month specials is so long it had to be put off-site. But it’s worth finding. Click here. Lots of great ideas.