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Burgerville's Unique Response to the Economic Climate
Instead of a value menu, Burgerville is investing in a brand-new gourmet menu.
image: Northwest quick serve Burgerville offers a seasonal, locally available menu featuring items like this yukon gold and white bean basil burger.

BOGO coupons. Value menus. Happy hours. Quick-serves have tried just about everything to ride out the recession. But not this.

“With clear economic constraints out there, there's a lot of focus on reducing price and making things really, really affordable,” says Jeff Harvey, CEO of Burgerville. “We're looking at providing a whole different experience to our guests who come to our restaurants.”

Instead of decreasing portion sizes or cutting prices, Burgerville is expanding its gourmet seasonal offerings, which have always been a customer favorite.

Each month until December, the chain uses a different locally available, seasonal ingredient to create two new menu items: an entree and a side dish. The initiative kicked off with a menu featuring Yukon gold potatoes in Yukon & White Bean Basil Burgers and Golden Yukon Waffle Fries.

“In the past it would take six to eight months to develop and launch a [seasonal] product,” Harvey says. “We're doing these in six weeks. It's much more rapid fire for us.”

The move was inspired by recession-related trends that Burgerville executives noticed, particularly in the Northwest, where the chain's 40 restaurants are located.

“There's a pretty strong migration of guests from the casual- and fine-dining segments down to quick-service,” Harvey says. “Those customers are coming to us with a different set of expectations than might have been traditional from past quick-service restaurant patrons. ... They're looking for a gourmet experience but in a quick-service, convenient model.”

And while the typical Burgerville customer is still 30–60 years old, the 20-something age bracket is growing in power and influence.

“They actually want bragging rights,” Harvey says. “They want to be able to tell their friends, 'You won't believe what I had last night.' We feel strongly that that attitude doesn't diminish because they're scaling their dining out dollars to a different segment.”

Based on both trends, Burgerville decided to drastically expand its seasonal offerings.

Although it's still in the early stages, the initiative has already seen success.

“We were pretty aggressive [with our predictions], but we've been actually shocked to learn that we're selling that product better than double what we were supposed to,” Harvey says.

While the chain planned to carry the Yukon gold potato seasonal items until the end of February, as of press time it expected to sell out of the products around February 23.

Rosemary, spinach, and asparagus products are scheduled for upcoming months. All of the recipes were developed by local food chef Grace Pae and the Burgerville Chef Council, which comprises a team of the store's general managers who also happen to be chefs.

When it's local ingredients, when it's fresh ingredients, [customers are] willing to pay a little bit more.

New menu items will be priced at midpoint for products in the same category, which puts entree sandwiches between $5 and $5.50 and a regular-sized side items at around $3.

“We're not a concept that gets into the burger price wars,” says Jeff Harvey, CEO. “When it's local ingredients, when it's fresh ingredients, [customers are] willing to pay a little bit more.”

Toward the end of the year, Burgerville will explore adding the most popular limited-time offers to its more permanent menu of signature items—a possibility that seems likely with the success of February's offerings.

“We believe that the clientele now, the marketplace, is interested in this kind of diversity of experience, Harvey says. “I think they're going to be excited about the creativity.”

Robin Hilmantel is an editorial intern at QSR.