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Fuddruckers Lightens Up
New, healthier burger options are the base for the chain’s Lighter Options Menu.
Fast-casual burger chain Fuddruckers has a new lighter options menu.

Fast-casual burger builder Fuddruckers is rolling out a new menu initiative that targets a broader consumer base with healthier options.

Conceived by Bill Gillen, Fuddruckers vice president of culinary operations, the Lighter Options Menu features Exotic Salads; Lite Burgers, served on whole-wheat buns; and Bunless Burgers to cut carbohydrates. The options are built around five core patties: ostrich, buffalo, turkey, veggie, and salmon.

“We designed burgers that were more health conscious than a regular ground beef burger,” Gillen says.

Known for its self-service topping bar, Fuddruckers is supplementing its new menu with a host of lower-calorie add-ons and sides, such as seasonal fruit salad; low-fat ranch and Italian dressings; and Alpine Lace low-sodium, low-fat American cheese. The whole-wheat buns will be baked from scratch, and the salads feature mesclun greens and grape tomatoes.

“It goes hand-in-hand with the whole lighter options concept,” Gillen says.

Four of the five out-of-the-ordinary burger choices—buffalo, ostrich, turkey, and veggie—have had spots in the Fuddruckers lineup before, but only as limited-time offers. This will be the first time all have appeared on the menu simultaneously, and the salmon burger is a new creation.

“Buffalo meat has a very big following because it is higher in protein, lower in fat, and still has a strong flavor profile,” Gillen says. “Ostrich meat is similar to [regular ground beef] but is lower in fat. We also wanted to bring on a new seafood burger.”

The strategy, Gillen says, is to offer alternatives to the ground beef burgers that have been the core of the Fuddruckers menu since its founding in 1980. The hope is that the lighter options, for which nutritional information was unavailable at press time, will attract a broader demographic to the restaurants and help avoid the veto vote. The chain is especially trying to appeal to female consumers.

“A lot of [the female demographic Fuddruckers targets] actually go[es] to Panera,” Gillen says. “Now they can come to Fuddruckers and get a salad.”

In this effort, the chain is also vying for the attention of increasingly health-conscious consumers. Competitors like T.G.I Fridays and Red Robin have had lighter options on their menus for some time, and Fuddruckers is trying to recapture customers who might have strayed for healthier fare. The chain has also taken a lot of criticism in the past for not making available nutritional information about its products. Nutritional facts for items on the Lighter Options Menu, however, will be available to guests in restaurants upon request.

“It’s something that’s been missing,” Gillen says. “We just really want to roll something out to our guests that they haven’t had before. We want to let them know there are healthy options available at Fuddruckers.”

Though it seems the chain is a bit late in jumping on the healthy option bandwagon, Darren Tristano, executive vice president at food industry consulting firm Technomic, says that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“I think it’s better late than never,” he says. “This gets in consumers’ heads, and they can say to themselves, ‘I can eat there because I’ve got these healthier options.’“

Maria Caranfa, director of Mintel Menu Insights, which tracks trends in the restaurant industry, agrees.

We designed burgers that were more health conscious than a regular ground beef burger.”

“Anytime someone puts out a healthy menu, it’s a good thing,” she says.

She also says Fuddruckers’ lighter options are in line with current trends in the healthy eating movement.

“Consumers don’t want healthy items to be the polar opposite of the indulgent items,” Caranfa says. “They don’t want to feel like they’re missing out on anything.”

By building the lighter menu around burgers, she says, Fuddruckers has accomplished that. The uncommon burger varieties will give consumers a sense that they have more of a choice to eat healthy, and the offerings open themselves up to take advantage of positive marketing. Instead of touting the line as “diet” or “low-calorie,” Fuddruckers would do well to play up the health benefits, such as the omega-3s in salmon and the lower saturated fat of buffalo meat, Caranfa says.

Gillen had no information as to how Fuddruckers plans to advertise the Lighter Options Menu beyond point-of-purchase material, saying only that the marketing team is “working on strategies.” The items rolled out in 26 test markets around the country on February 19 and should appear systemwide in mid-March.