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.

Add Value to Menus with Wisconsin Cheese

When you turn your cheese- burgers into Wisconsin Cheeseburgers, you’re not just adding extra flavor, you’re adding the prestige of award-winning quality. Quality your customers will pay a premium for. Click on the logo above or the burger below to visit the recipe page. Try a new Wisconsin Cheeseburger recipe today!

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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.

U.S. Supermarket Testing of McCafé Coffee Has Begun

[Update: Photo added of McCafe on shelves.]
[Update: McDonald's responded with this statement: "McDonald’s is committed to serving delicious, high quality coffee that our customers can feel good about – at a value. We are building on the momentum of our McCafé beverages in our restaurants by expanding these options as we increasingly strive to become our customers’ favorite cup of coffee. By testing a variety of packaged ground and whole bean coffee as well as on-demand single cup options sold through grocery stores and other retail locations, McDonald’s is collaborating with Kraft to provide customers a new way to enjoy their McCafé cup of coffee at home.”]

McDonald’s Corp. already is test marketing its McCafé bagged coffee in U.S. supermarkets. And the test goes well beyond the ground Premium Roast coffee it has sold in Canada since late 2012.

McCafe sports new graphics in its U.S. test.

McCafe sports new graphics in its U.S. test.

On Monday I suggested that the current McCafé coffee-sampling promotion might be a prelude to testing of bagged McCafé coffee at retail. McDonald’s and Kraft Foods Group said last year that testing would begin in 2014. But I have since learned that retail sales already have quietly begun in selected locations.

One is the Wegmans supermarket in Mechanicsburg, Pa., near Harrisburg, where McDonald’s McCafé brand is currently well represented on the coffee aisle. But in addition to ground Premium Roast McCafé coffee, ground Breakfast Blend, French Roast and Decaf Premium coffees are offered. For those who like flavored coffee, a French Vanilla-flavored Premium Roast is available.

These bagged coffees—all ground—are priced at $7.29. That’s slightly higher than the CAN$6.99 (now roughly US$6.32) at which a 12-oz. bag of McCafé was priced when introduced in Canada.

But McDonald’s also is testing interest in single-serve cups, too. Premium Roast, Decaf and Vanilla McCafé blends are offered at Wegmans in K-cups®. At the Wegmans in Mechanicsburg, 12-count boxes of single-serve McCafé cups are priced at $7.49. As reported here previously, researcher Mintel says the single-serve-pod market was worth $3.1 billion in the U.S. last year and could account for 50% of coffee sales by 2018. The total coffee market was valued at $11.7 billion, according to MarketWatch.

McDonald’s Corp. did not respond to a request for comment on McCafé testing, so I can’t say in how many markets or at what price points McCafé currently is being offfered. It is not available in all Wegmans markets, according to sources, but other grocery chains and other cities no doubt are involved.

In 2010, McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson said coffee accounted for more than 6% of its U.S. sales. That share may since have increased, but even 6% of the chain’s 2013 domestic sales would be $2.15 billion. Coffee is an important product to McDonald’s. Click here to continue reading U.S. Supermarket Testing of McCafé Coffee Has Begun

White Castle’s Authentic Waffles; McD’s Pretzel Buns

WhiteCastle_WafflesThe great thing about White Castle’s announcement that it will add three sandwiches built on Belgian waffles is that these literally are Belgian waffles, as in imported by White Castle from Belgium. Why would you do that when waffles are so simple to make? Wouldn’t you want to make them fresh in the restaurant? The chain says it wants “to bring Cravers an authentic taste of Europe.” Personally, I’ve never looked to White Castle for that.

Taco Bell seems to have laid down an innovation challenge with its Waffle Taco for breakfast. White Castle’s responses are two new breakfast sandwiches on its authentic Belgian waffles: One has bacon, egg and cheese between waffles; another nestles in sausage, egg and cheese.

One of McDonald's pretzel-roll sandwiches in Germany.

One of McDonald’s pretzel-roll sandwiches in Germany.

There’s an available-all-day waffle sandwich coming, too: the always-popular chicken-and-waffle-and-gravy combo.


Before everyone was buzzing about breakfast menus we all were talking pretzel buns. Wendy’s had ’em and then so did everyone else, it seemed. But not McDonald’s.

Not so fast. In Germany, McDonald’s has introduced new snack-size sandwiches, two of which are on pretzel rolls. Both have turkey-ham, Emmental cheese, arugula and a mild sauce. But one adds sliced egg; the other has sliced tomato.

The other snack sandwiches are Ciabatta Tomato Mozzarella and a Ciabatta Ham and Cheese.

Is McDonald’s Free Coffee a Setup?

The news is that McDonald’s will be giving away free small coffees during breakfast hours from today through April 13. Why? Could it be the prelude to testing McCafé coffee at retail?

McDonald’s frequently hands out free coffee. National Coffee Day, Sept. 28, 2013:  Free coffee in most markets. Again last December: free coffee in many markets. So the tactic is hardly new: Burger King gave free coffee with breakfast in January. But McDonald’s insists this will be its “first-ever national Free Coffee Event.” Again, why?

McDonald's sells bagged McCafe coffee in Canada and plans to test it here. Is now the time?

McDonald’s sells bagged McCafe coffee in Canada and plans to test it here. Is now the time?

“Breakfast wars!” is the sexy if horribly clichéd explanation. The thinking is that free coffee will keep breakfast eaters from swapping their Egg McMuffin for the A.M. Crunchwrap on Taco Bell’s new breakfast menu. But I wonder how many McDonald’s breakfast eaters even know if there’s a Taco Bell on their way to work. If Taco Bell were a major threat, its annual per-store sales would be higher than roughly $1.4 million. McDonald’s are more than $1 million higher.

So what’s the official explanation? “This event is McDonald’s way of encouraging new guests to try McCafé Coffee while giving our breakfast lovers even more reason to enjoy the great taste of our signature blend,” the company said in its release.

Right. McDonald’s Corp. 10-k SEC filing says its marketing plan for 2014 is, in part, to “enhance the breakfast experience by emphasizing coffee through high-quality McCafé products paired with delicious foods—both existing and new.” So this coffee promotion is in line with the existing marketing plan.

Now here’s my question: Wouldn’t McDonald’s be smart if it conducted these upcoming “Make Friends with McCafé” coffee-sampling events right before it launches McCafé coffee at retail?

McDonald’s hasn’t said when it will begin testing McCafé whole-bean, ground and K-cup coffee in supermarkets (as it already does in Canada). But last October, Tony Vernon, CEO of coffee partner Kraft Foods, said testing would begin this year. A McDonald’s Corp. spokesperson said then, “We are building on the momentum of our McCafé beverages in our restaurants by expanding these options…to grocery stores and other retail locations.” Click here to continue reading Is McDonald’s Free Coffee a Setup?

Your Four 2014 A.1. Burger Brackets Semi-Finalists

Four burger brands with passionate, loyal, won’t-quit fans. Six days to cast votes that will decide who faces off for the A.1. Burger Brackets national championship trophy.

Semi-finals voting ends Saturday, April 5. Vote once a day, every day. Tell your friends. Explain it to your mother. You don’t want your favorite burger joint to come this far and fail to make the final contest, do you? Go to the VOTING PAGE. You know what to do. Good luck!



Eight Great Burger Brands Face Off in Round 4

More than 27,000 votes were cast during the A.1. Burger Brackets’ just-ended Round of 16 and the head-to-head battles were amazingly close. You all have some seriously dedicated fans.

Burgatory looks like it seriously intends to repeat as champion. Can anyone catch it? In Round 4 that is iconic A&W’s task. The always-strong Bagger Dave’s Burger Tavern confronts Red Robin, which mounted an amazing rally in the closing hours to edge Five Guys by just a few votes. The pride of the Southwest, Whataburger, takes on surprisingly tough Back Yard Burgers, which has knocked off some high-profile brands (like In-N-Out Burger) to reach Round 4. And then there’s Mooyah, the Plano, Texas-based burgers, fries and shakes specialist making its Burger Brackets debut and tripping up anyone who underestimates its popularity. It faces Wayback Burgers (formerly Jake’s), the fast-growing retro burger shop from Cheshire, Conn. Its supporters are loud!

So the Round of 8 should be interesting. But it’s another two-day weekend round to see just how loyal your fans really are. Do they love you on weekends too? Voting for this round ends Sunday at 7 p.m. Go to the VOTING PAGE to back your burger joint! Please support Bracket sponsor A.1. Steak Sauce: they make this fun possible! Good luck to all! Click here to continue reading Eight Great Burger Brands Face Off in Round 4

Restaurant Ad Spending: $17.7 Million a Day

For the third consecutive year, restaurant advertising spending increased sharply more than total U.S. ad spending (see chart). Restaurants spent $6.449 billion on measured media (TV, magazines, newspapers, Internet display ads, radio, outdoor boards and free-standing inserts), a 5.2% increase over 2012 spending, according to data from Kantar Media.

Significantly, that 5.2% is significantly greater than last year’s 2.9% increase in ad spending by the restaurant category’s largest single advertiser, McDonald’s Corp. The $988 million it spent accounted for 15.3% of total 2013 restaurant advertising dollars.

Total U.S. ad spending rose just 0.9% to $140.2 billion last year. The lack of Olympic and political spending during the year limited growth, Kantar reported. It noted that the largest 1,000 advertisers as a group are spending more while smaller companies sharply cut back spending last year.

2013 Ad Spending

Total ad spending during 2103’s Q4 was positive (+1.6%) during what was a very volatile year. Total ad spending declined 0.1% in Q1, jumped up 3.5% in Q2 and then fell 1.9% in Q3. Restaurant ad spending had declined 3.6% in Q3, falling farther than overall spending, before bouncing back in Q4.

Heavy support for McDonald's Dollar Menu & More help boost Q4 ad spending.

Heavy support for McDonald’s Dollar Menu & More helped boost Q4 ad spending.

Although restaurants spent roughly $17.7 million on advertising per day in 2013, the category ranked 8th among advertisers. And its 5.2% increase was not the largest. Ad spending in the telecom category was up 8.2% in 2013; the insurance category was up 8.1%. The largest decline was the 11.4% drop by direct-response companies.  Ad spending also declined (-4.1%) in the financial services category.

Among media, the largest gain in spending was in Internet display ads (15.7%) while network radio showed the largest decline (-15.9%). Spending on cable TV was up 7.3%; spending on network and spot TV was down. Newspapers continued to slide, down 3.7% for the year.

Burger King backed the Big King and Satisfries in  Q4.

Burger King backed the Big King and Satisfries in Q4.

McDonald’s $988 million in 2013 advertising –or $2.7 million a day–compares with $960 million spent in 2012, according Kantar Media data. McDonald’s remains by far the category’s biggest spender. It helped increase Q4 restaurant spending with heavy lobbying for its Dollar Menu & More.

Other Q4 restaurant advertising highlights were Wendy’s backing of its Pretzel Pub Chicken and Bacon Portabella Melt on Brioche burgers; Burger King’s introduction of Satisfries and its Big King; Carl’s Jr./Hardee’s promotion of freshly baked buns for premium burgers; Jack in the Box’s tandem introductions of its Jalapeňo BBQ Burger and Fajita Ranch Melt sandwiches; and Sonic’s Island Fire Spicy Chicken line.

$12 Burger Anchors New Swiss McDonald’s Menu

McD_Swiss_Prime2McDonald’s has launched a new upscale “Signature” menu lineup in Switzerland that boasts a $12 burger called The Prime along with a range of Caesar salads.

This is in line with the trend, tipped here earlier, to QSRs making menus unabashedly fancier in style and preparation. “Posh Making a Comeback on Menus” was the headline on that post. It referenced the revival of the “M Selections” line at McDonald’s in Australia; Red Robin’s white-glove-and-pearls presentation of its high-price Finest burger line; the “Casual attire. Formal flavor” line used to promote McDonald’s Bacon Clubhouse burger in the U.S. and more. Add Switzerland to the list.

McDonald’s says The Prime burger and the other items in the Swiss Signature line were developed in conjunction with local TV cooking show host René Schudel, who is featured in advertising. A beyond-the-scenes video about Schudel and the making of the Prime can be seen here. According to complaints lodged on McDonald’s Swiss Facebook page, the burger has a suggested price of 10.90 CHF or about $12.31. Several consumers say there that the burger is good but too expensive.

McD_Swiss_SignatureThe burger itself is a 180-gram (6.3-ounce) Swiss beef patty topped with “rustic mountain cheese” plus bacon, coleslaw, arugula and a special sauce. TV advertising boasts it has everything a burger should: “character, taste and size.”

But The Prime is only the anchor for the new Signature menu line. It also includes oddly shaped fries (flat and round like chubby potato chips), and four salads: The Ebly Salad (with wheatberries, melon, tomatoes and “a fine dressing”), potato salad (with dried tomatoes), coleslaw (with carrots and cabbage) and Caesar Salad (plain or with grilled or crispy chicken).