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2012 Burger Trends Forecast: The Year of Commodity Costs

A year ago, BurgerBusiness.com forecast that 2011 would be The Year of the Stuffed Burger. Nope, didn’t happen. I’d have been closer had I just extended 2010’s Year of the Patty Melt designation for another year (see, for example the new Bacon Patty Melt at Johnnie Rockets). A prediction that 2011 would be the Year of the Egg would have looked sagacious (great word), too, since egg-topped, brunch-style burgers are so much in vogue. Such is the risk of forecasting. 

Is Hardee's Hand-Breaded Chicken Fillet what burgers will look like in 2012?

Undaunted, BurgerBusiness.com is ready to forecast that 2012 will be the…Year of the Commodity Cost. How’s that? What that means is that wholesale prices will have more influence on menu innovation than will consumer tastes or desires. What that means is that burgers certainly won’t go away, but consumers will pay more for good ones. Watch for chains like McDonald’s to cross the $5 threshhold on premium-burger prices. Combo meals could hover between $7 and $8. Technomic cites commodity costs in its list of seven trends for 2012, but concludes that the result will be more homestyle cooking. I think the impact will be more significant than that for burger joins: it could mean less beef on menus.

The Year of the Commodity Costs means that burger joints and chains are planning for 2012 now and the picture for beef isn’t pretty. Brad Ludington, research analyst at KeyBanc Capital Markets in Dallas, reports that October 2011 was the first month this year when the firm’s Restaurant Commodity Index was not up double-digits. High feed costs are expected to keep beef and hog prices rising (corn is up 26% over October 2010).

Chicken-breast prices, however, were down 14% vs. October 2010. BurgerBusiness.com sees a continued shift in menu R&D toward poultry and away from beef. That forecast begins with McDonald’s expected January introduction of Chicken McBites nationally.

No, burgers won’t go away. Wendy’s won’t walk away from Dave’s Hot’ ‘n Juicy Cheeseburgers. But LTOs are likely to skew toward chicken and turkey. Don’t be surprised if McDonald’s imports the CBO (chicken, bacon, onion) or Chicken Legend, two sandwiches that have sold very well overseas.

Side Dish of the Year in 2012? Seasoned fries. Watch from McDonald’s to import the “shaker fries” product that is so popular in Asian markets. A packet of seasonings can be sprinkled on fries. OK, maybe not the seaweed flavor popular in Singapore, but spicy or cheesy versions could work here.

Topping of the Year? If corn and hog prices keep rising, it probably won’t be bacon. Too expensive. Instead, BurgerBusiness.com sees the healthy-eating push influencing burger toppings. Salads will go from bowl to bun. At Deemer’s American Grill in Laguna Niguel, Calif., the Napa Burger (beef or chicken) includes baby spinach, grilled red onion, fresh goat cheese and basil pesto aïoli. Expect to see similar salad-style topping combinations.

Expect more creative mayo-style aïolis as sauce options if only because they work so well with chicken. At 2011 Burger Brackets winner Blanc Burgers + Bottles in Leawood, Kan., the Chicken Caprese burger is topped with tomato-basil mayo. Sun-Dried Tomato Mayo is only one of several house-made sauces at Golden Nuggets Tavern & Grille in Minnetonka, Minn. Other scratch-made sauces include BBQ sauce, Bacon-Chive Sauce, Russian dressing, Garlic Mayo, Pico de Gallo, Horsey Sauce, Sriracha Mayo and Nacho Cheese. Expect to see more house-made condiments.

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