The second phase of Burger King’s menu renovation was this month’s introduction of an array of what it called its Premium Chicken Menu. At the same time, the chain quietly rebranded its fish sandwich from BK Big Fish to the much more elegant Premium Alaskan Fish Sandwich. In these cases, Burger King was following trends not only with food but also in how food is marketed on menus.
“Premium” has become a hot menu term. According to data compiled for BurgerBusiness.com by Mintel, its use on menus has doubled since 2007 (and this is even before Burger King’s new items), and not just at quick-service restaurants. In an economy where consumers are looking for top value without necessarily paying more for it, “premium” connotes high quality or high price without committing to being either. “Premium” sounds upscale, special, with a sophistication that “deluxe” lacks.
Over the past five years, but especially in the last year and especially among QSRs, “premium” has proliferated. The Mintel Menu Insights data shows the incidence of “premium” on QSR menus nearly doubled from 23 in Q2 2010 to 41 in 2012’s second quarter (with BK’s items not arriving until this year’s Q3).
Among fast-casual restaurants, usage of “premium” has been less but the same increase over the past year is evident. Casual-dining chains have been the most willing users of “premium” for years but even in this category there has been a spike in the past year from 63 in Q2 2010 to 75 in Q2 2012.
In April, BurgerBusiness.com reported on Technomic’s 2011 Center of the Plate Beef & Pork Consumer Trend Report, which found that “premium” is the most persuasive menu term for selling beef. More than a quarter (28%) of survey respondents 28% of diners said the term would make them more likely to order beef and to pay up to 5% more for it.
But “premium” is being used to sell much more than beef. Consider Sonic’s Premium Beef Hot Hog line, Firehouse Subs’ Premium Roast Beef Sub or Larry’s Giant Subs’ Animal sub with “Golden supreme breast of turkey and premium ham.” McDonald’s is among “premium’s” biggest fans, with its Chicken Selects Premium Breast Strips and Premium chicken sandwiches and salads. Ruby Tuesday touts the “premium cheeses and toppings” on its Garden Bar.
Use of “premium” is likely to be up at least as long as the economy is down.