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Monday Meeting: Prediction Season Begins

The Jet Fuel Burger at Zinburger in Clifton, N.J., is just the sort of flavorful creation that keeps the upscale-burger trend going.

New York City-based food and restaurant consultants Baum & Whiteman are courageous enough to admit they were wrong last year in predicting that “gourmet” burgers’ popularity had peaked. But they’re foolish enough to make the same mistake again this year.

The mea culpa is down there at No. 15 on the firm’s list of “16 Hottest Food and Dining Trends for Restaurants and Hotels in 2012.” But they’re not backing off. Says B&W: “We predicted last year that ‘gourmet burgers’ would peak in 2011. But they haven’t and we may be premature. Seems that a new burger chain launches every few weeks without regard for the growing density of competition. We think they’ll outrun the available demand; they’re selling a product that’s available everywhere; creativity is running amok as newcomers strain for differentiation; and there’s a low barrier to entry. We see a bubble. So wait’ll next year.”

How will they phrase their admission of error next year? To be fair, BurgerBusiness.com was off base in predicting that 2011 would be the Year of the Stuffed Burger. Burger King’s BK Stuffed Steakhouse in January 2011 turned out to be such a disappointment that it may have frightened off burger joints from doing something similar.

BurgerBusiness.com will announce burger predictions for 2012 later this week, Meanwhile, here are Baum & Whiteman’s other crystal-ball forecasts for next year:

1) What’s that crunching sound?: B&W says it’s independents collapsing under the strain of chain restaurants’ price cuts and coupons. The company foresees 8,000 to 10,000 restaurant closures in 2012. That’s not surprising considering that The NPD Group reported that 9,450 restaurants (only 3,485 of them indies) closed during the 12 months ending in April 2011.

2) The whole world on a plate: Korean tacos and other such “multi-culti” (a cutesy word we should pray doesn’t catch on) dishes create a “multi-ethnic, multisensory dining experience where flavors clash on purpose.” Cooking “is at a crossroads…where everything collides. It’s mostly happening at eateries where food is cheap because the risk is low … for both buyers and sellers.”

3) A widening “flavor gap”: B&W sniff that funky,ethnic ingredients are “alien” to chains such as Five Guys and Panera Bread. They say that allows indepdendents to exploit this “flavor gap” by serving the sort of over-worked multi-culti chow they just decried.

4) Instead of bread: B&W predicts more alternatives to bread for sandwiches, such as arepas, flattened tostones, bao or rice cakes. OK, but not for burgers, thanks.

5) Innards and outards: This was on last year’s B&W list and it’s back because nose-to-tail gastronomy has been an established trend for years. Organ meat is hip, as “Bizzarre Foods” host Andrew Zimmern has been demonstrating since 2007.

6) In a pickle: “House-made vegetable and fruit pickles will appear on more and more menus.” Granted.

7) At last, Korean hits the charts: “Bulgogi, kimchee, kalbi, bibimbap are all the rage in Wednesday food sections, which means that shelter magazines will start running dumbed-down recipes in 2012 and we wouldn’t be shocked to see Korean-inflected fried chicken appearing on some chain menus.” We would be shocked to see B&W condescending to dining at a chain. Unless it’s Shake Shack, of course.

8 a, b, c) No, everyone’s not broke: Certainly not New York City consultants. This leads to predictions that a) comfort food is so over; b) we’ll see more “early drinking; late night dining”; c) we’ll see more precocious fried yum yums like “kimchee- and-Parmesan-filled arancini, spherical falafel and bacalao croquettes.” Can’t wait. But those culinary yokels at Panera where the lower classes eat won’t have the nerve to offer such delights.

9) Beer gardens will boom: I am all for this one being true.

10) Wheels will come off food trucks: “Dozens of food truck operators will open brick-and-mortar shops in 2012.” Why would they do that? “There’s more money to be made in storefronts now that food trucks…prove that eccentric menus have great market potential, and after the trucks create strongly branded identities that attract customers and satisfy wary landlords.” But if there were plentiful cheap storefront locations, food trucks wouldn’t have flourished in the first place, would they?

11) Chocolate dirt! The foragers are coming: B&W sees an upsurge in chefs foraging to create edible landscapes with “‘dirt’” made of dried and crumbled mushrooms, black olives, bulgur wheat, or sprouting grains.” Seriously, where do these folks dine?

12) Japanese craft beers: And what goes better with a bacalao croquette than a Japanese craft beer? See “Everyone’s not broke” above.

13) Forget skyscraper architecture: “Chefs are shifting from stacking food as high as possible to stringing out ingredients in caterpillar-like lines along oblong or rectangular plates.” A valid observation, by golly.

14) Peru gains momentum: “We predict this is the next cuisine.” Wait. Is Korean passé already?

15) Wrong on hamburgers: The aforementioned mea culpa.

16) Three cautionary trends: a) “Artisan,” “heirloom” and “local” are overused and misused. True. They should have added “gourmet”; b) there’s a “looming oversupply” of farmers markets. But if so, won’t supply diminish to balance demand? c) “Too many chefs are smoking too many foods.” There’s an obvious riposte here about who’s smoking what, but we’ll just let it ride.

2 comments to Monday Meeting: Prediction Season Begins

  • Love you guys and your pithy comments. Re burgers: When we say that gourmet burgers will “peak”, that doesn’t mean they’re over; it means their growth diminishes and maybe even comes to a halt. Yeah, we see a bubble building. ‘Wait’ll next year’ in our 2012 predictions means 2013. Keep watching, and get the bouquet of roses ready.

    Eagerly looking forward to your own burger predictions.

  • admin

    Thanks, Michael! I’d look for burger growth through 2013 and beyond, but we’ll see. Our predictions are here:

    http://www.burgerbusiness.com/?p=8463

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