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Burger King Readies $1 Fry Burger

One burger, four fries, $1.

One burger, four fries, $1.

Two months ago, BurgerBusiness.com reported that french fries are moving from side-dish to burger-topping status. Never one to ignore a trend, Burger King next week will introduce a fry-topped BK French Fry Burger for $1, the AP reports.

That’s stunning corroboration of the chain’s earlier declaration that it intends to back away from its past strategy of launching multi-item seasonal menus. The Chicken Parmesan sandwich returns next week, too. But that’s it. No wave of new products.

The Sept. 1 introduction of the Fry Burger also corroborates another trend: consumers’ wariness about premium-price menu items and preference for value-menu options. Burger King said sales of its high-end Bacon Cheddar Stuffed Burger were disappointing but that its $1.29 Whopper Jr. deal and “2 for $5” sandwich promotion did better.

Burger King should be aware of a recent poll on the A Hamburger Today website. It asked for visitors’ opinions about moving fries from the side to the top of a burger. The result: nearly 56% put thumbs down on the idea.

NPD Maps Fast-Casual Density

FiveGuysThere were roughly 15,728 fast-casual-chain restaurants in the U.S. as of the end of May 2013, according to The NPD Group. That equates to five Panera Bread, Five Guys Burger and Fries, Wahoo’s Fish Taco or other fast-casual unit per every 100,000 Americans on average. In the Fort Collins/Loveland, Colo., metro area, however, the density is 13.14 fast-casual restaurant per 100,000 residents, making it the most fast-casual-heavy community in America.

Holding the No. 2 and No. 3 positions on NPD’s density list are two other Colorado metro areas: Denver/Aurora/Broomfield (12.76 density) and Boulder (12.53). The top 10 list also includes three metro areas in Florida as well as the Washington, D.C., metro area.

Said Greg Starzynski, director-product management for NPD Foodservice: “Many of the fast-casual chains have been adding units in an otherwise soft restaurant environment. Traditional quick-service restaurants have taken notice and are working to compete with the fast casual chains’ offerings, especially in terms of the freshness and quality of food. All of these efforts will benefit both the consumer and industry.”

Source: The NPD Group/Spring 2013 ReCount®

Source: The NPD Group/Spring 2013 ReCount®

Boston’s Introduces the Pizzaburger

Bostons_PizzaBurgerIf you thought the Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger was the ultimate upgrade in burger buns, think again. Today the Dallas-based Boston’s Restaurant & Sports Bar chain introduces the Pizzaburger.

Pizzaburgers are available in Five-Cheese and Pepperoni & Bacon versions. The latter includes a half-pound Angus beef patty, signature pizza sauce, grated cheese, pepperoni and bacon, all wrapped in hand-made pizza dough and baked. The Pizzaburgers are priced at $9.99 to $12.99 depending on market and other variables, the casual-dining chain says.

“Some things just belong together, and the Pizzaburger, first introduced by our sister company Boston Pizza in Canada, is our take on the perfect food combination,” Mike Best, chief operating officer of Boston’s said in a statement. “Our customers crave diverse, robust flavors and the Pizzaburger offers just that. It is sure to be a crowd pleaser.”

Boston’s plans to support the Pizzaburger introduction with a social-media campaign that includes a contest playing off the online dating trend. Digital videos and in-store signage also support the launch.

McDonald’s Planning Mighty Wings for Fall?

[Update: Following publication of this post, McDonald’s confirmed that it will roll out Mighty Wings nationally as an LTO on Sept. 9, 2013. Available through November, the bone-in chicken wings will be sold in 3, 5, and 10 pieces starting at $2.99. The company did not address other items mentioned in the operator's Facebook post.
Mighty Wings come with an assortment of nine sauces including Chipotle Barbeque Sauce, Creamy Ranch Sauce, Honey Mustard Sauce, Hot Mustard Sauce, Spicy Buffalo Sauce, Sweet Chili Sauce, Sweet 'N Sour Sauce, Honey and Tangy Barbeque Sauce.]

Burger King may be stepping back from introducing multi-item seasonal menus but McDonald’s apparently still finds the strategy appealing. Before it disappeared, a post on one McDonald’s operator’s Facebook page excitedly outlined some of the fall menu items in the “robust new-product pipeline” the chain likes to tout.

McD_MightyWings_BB2“Some exciting things headed our way this fall! Pralines and Crème McFlurry, Pumpkin Spice Lattes, Pumpkin Pies return, a Southwest Premium McWrap and MIGHTY WINGS!!!” gushed the Facebook page for a McDonald’s under construction on N. Kansas Expressway in Springfield, Mo.

McDonald’s Corp. officials could not be reached for comment so it isn’t certain that bone-in chicken wings will be introduced nationally this fall; it could be a regional test. But there are other indications that a national move is planned. One is that McDonald’s Corp. filed a U.S. federal trademark registration on Aug. 15, 2013, for “Mighty Wing.”

McDonald’s first, but briefly, tested chicken wings in the 1990s before reviving them in July 2012 in Atlanta. The test moved to Chicago in January 2013. In Atlanta the wings were priced at $3.29 for a 3-piece pack. In Chicago, McDonald’s priced the 3-wings pack a bit lower, at $2.99. The pricing model to be used this fall can’t be determined.

Earlier this year,  J.M. Owen, president of the Greater Atlanta McDonald’s Operators Association, called the Mighty wings test “extremely successful,” especially with African-American consumers.

The planned extension of the Premium McWrap line to include a Southwest variety suggests that the product has been a success since its heavily advertised national introduction in March.

Americanization of British Menus Continues

Burgers are the most commonly found food on increasingly Americanized British menus, reports London-based researcher Horizons’ 2013 Menurama survey. That Americanization extends to cost-cutting measures: Burgers average 6.35 ounces, a 17% decrease from the 7.69-oz. average found in the summer of 2010. Still burgers showed a 13% increase in menu listings in the past year.

A burger with chorizo relish (and more) at London’s Gourmet Burger Kitchen chain.

The decrease in size hasn’t made burgers cheap: The average menu price (including pubs, restaurant and hotels) is £9.27 (US$14.53)  according to Menurama.

The top 10 entrées on British menus are beef burger, pizza, chicken burger, fish & chips, rump steak, roast chicken, rib-eye steak, chicken curry, sirloin steak and Sunday lunch (roast).

Horizons reports that the U.S. fascination with upscale hot dogs is taking hold in the UK. Hot dogs are on 85% more menus than just one year ago. Hot dogs have joined the top 20 menu items, bumping traditional British favorite scampi & chips. Pub chain Marston’s has added an American-influenced Mac ‘n Cheese Hot Dog. One reason for the growth may be price: Hot dogs average £6.12 (US$9.59) on British menus.

One of Honest Burgers’ three London locations.

“Against a backdrop of rising food costs and squeezed consumer spend, the reduction in weight of key meat dishes demonstrates that operators are having to become more savvy with regard to menu and price engineering,” says Nicola Knight, Horizons director of services. “This could explain the huge growth in hot dogs on menus they are relatively cheap to produce and operators can easily add value to them enabling them to charge more.”

Horizons’ Menurama analyzes menus of 115 chains covering the pub, restaurant, quick-service and hotel segments. Among the other findings of this year’s survey:

Such American foods as pulled pork, chicken wings and ribs show significant growth in the past year. American descriptors and items such as “black & blue steak,” “Cobb salad” and “slaw” have gained acceptance as well.

Use of healthy-eating descriptions declined in Britain during the past year. Horizons’ Knight suggests this may be the result of operators steering menus toward more-indulgent offerings.

Food Trucks: A Threat or Expanding the Market?

The Informal Eating Out (IEO) market is what McDonald’s executives like to call the total universe of away-from-home dining options open to consumers. It includes restaurants of all types, of course, and, increasingly, it also includes mobile food trucks in most large markets.

Ready to roll: Boston’s Baddest Burger & Sandwich Co.

So it’s not really surprising that new research conducted by The NPD Group finds that money spent on food-truck meals is money that could have gone to a traditional quick-service restaurant. In fact, half the adults surveyed said they would have gone to a QSR had they not eaten food from a truck or cart. Another 20% say they would have skipped the meal altogether, so in that sense food trucks are expanding the IEO universe while also taking sales from other options.

NPD finds that the most-often-cited reasons for patronizing a food truck or cart is the availability of “interesting” foods. That makes sense to anyone who has enjoyed a Pork Burger at Los Angeles’ Flatiron Truck: A 5-oz. pork patty with bacon-tomato jam, pickled red onions, arugula and Manchego cheese in a brioche bun. Brick-and-mortar restaurants can compete with menu items like that, but not with “convenience,” which is the second-most-mentioned reason for food-truck dining.

The burger with Japanese tomato jam, jalapeno-Jack cheese, fried egg Japanese BBQ sauce and crispy onion strings from Yume Burger in Austin, Texas.

Food trucks’ ability to follow the crowds is double-edged: It heightens convenience but lessens repeat business and loyalty. NPD finds that more than half of adults aware of food trucks in their area say they patronize them once every two to three months or less often.

What do food trucks offer? NPD finds that 71% have hot sandwiches; 61% have Mexican food; 44% menu cold sandwiches; 24% feature soups; and 22% have salads.

The slider lineup at Dallas’s Easy Slider truck.

“For now at least, food trucks need not be viewed as a threat to restaurant demand nationally,” Bonnie Riggs, NPD restaurant industry analyst, said in a statement. “However, in markets with a developed food truck presence, QSR operators may wish to take note of the benefits food trucks offer, such as different and fresh food, especially as a means to build their snack business and/or protect lunch traffic.”

While some of the best trucks have gone brick-and-mortar (such as Grill ’Em All in Alhambra, Calif., and Brunch Box in Portland, Ore.), many chains and burger joints are hitting the road. Among the indies with trucks are Los Angeles’ Rounds and Pie ‘n Burger, BRGR in Pittsburgh, New York City’s GO Burger, Sacramento’s Krush Burger and Baltimore’s Kooper’s Tavern. To help operators better know the mobile competition and to learn what’s being offered out there, BurgerBusiness.com offers a list of “55 Burger Trucks Worth Finding.” Check the menus. They’re all members of the IEO universe.

If your burger-menu food truck is among the many not listed, leave a comment and set us straight.

Monday Meeting: Localization Strategies & Blue Cheese

 The year’s second half began for McDonald’s with the same disappointing sales in much of Europe reported during the first two quarters. Comparable sales for the region were down 1.1% in Q1 and 0.1% in Q2 before dropping 1.9% in July. The continuing storyline is that the UK and Russia are strong but France, Germany and southern Europe (primarily Italy and Spain) have been soft.

McBaguette varieties now are bundled as “Casse Croute” combos.

Those stagnant markets are the regions where McDonald’s has most sharply veered from its standardized menu to create dishes linked to local tastes. In Italy, for example, the company announced a partnership with pasta giant Barilla and launched a pasta salad with tuna, tomato and olives with Barilla pasta. It failed to boost Q2 sales. Now the chain is trying a calzone-like Pizzarotto in Happy Meals.

In France, menu localization has brought the 280 Burger topped with a sauce that includes herbes de Provence. Earlier McDonald tried a series of small burgers with French cheeses (Comté, Camembert, Raclette and Chèvre this year). But McDonald’s sales in France and Italy are not growing. So is the localization strategy working? It doesn’t appear to be. But is it just a victim of consumers’ spending cutbacks on premium-price items (which many of the the “local” items have been)?

There is one local menu item that has caught on, however, and its secret may be its simplicity. McBaguette. Given a six-week test run in McDonald’s French stores beginning in April 2012, the ham-and-cheese-on-baguette idea clicked and has been offered since. But is its success due to the French love of baguettes or of a good value? McBaguette is now part of a €4.50 (US$6) “Le Casse Croute” (snack meal) sandwich-and-drink combo that also includes beef-and-mustard and chicken-curry sandwich varieties.

Testing at Hardee’s

McBaguette now is migrating to McDonald’s in other hard-pressed European markets where baguettes have no iconic status, such as Hungary and the Czech Republic, as well as French neighbors such as Switzerland.

Those who loved Wendy’s Bacon & Blue burger in 2010 and Hardee’s Blue Cheese Steakburger in 2011 will be cheered to hear that Hardee’s is in a blue mood again. In the nation’s heartland (Iowa and Missouri), Hardee’s is testing a third-pound Frank’s Red Hot Buffalo Blue Cheese Thickburger. The company did not respond to a request for information on rollout plans for the burger. (Thanks to @davidweihe for the photo.)

Hooters Parent Buys American Roadside Burgers

Chanticleer Holdings, parent of the Hooters chicken chain, announced an agreement to acquire all outstanding share of five-unit burger chain American Roadside Burgers (ARB). Terms of the acquisition were not released.

The signature four-patty Roadstar burger.

ARB like Chanticleer is based in Charlotte, N.C. The concept opened 10 years ago in Smithtown, N.Y. It also operates two locations in Charlotte as well as units in Columbia and Greenville, S.C.

Chanticleer Chairman-CEO Mike Pruitt said in a release that the deal for ARB “is our first departure from our ongoing development of Hooter’s restaurants in foreign countries. This acquisition will in no way change our focus on the development of Hooters restaurants internationally, but American Roadside presents a unique strategic opportunity in a high-growth space.”

ARB’s signature menu item is the four-patty Roadstar burger ($8.95). Other specialties include the Roadside Rally double cheeseburger ($6.95) and Route 66, a double-patty burger with pepper-Jack cheese, bacon and barbecue sauce ($6.95). The menu also includes pulled pork and Philly Cheesesteak sandwiches, salads, chicken wings and hand-scooped milkshakes.

Terms of the preliminary agreement call for Chanticleer to issue 740,000 stock (HOTR) units to the owners of Roadside Burgers, with each unit consisting of one share of common stock, and one five-year warrant, priced at $5. The value of the share exchange will be dependent upon Chanticleer Holding’s stock price at date of closing, which is expected to be Sept. 30, 2013.