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Any way you slice it, premium beef is becoming a top choice for quick-service and fast-casual restaurants looking to surpass the competition.

As we ease our way out of an economic downturn, premium beef sales at quick-service and fast-casual restaurants are on an upswing. Perhaps because of optimistic news that the country is on the cusp of a recovery, consumers seem to be seeking out more quality and a better value when they eat out—and they’re willing to pay for it. A recent Burger Consumer Trend Report by Technomic, a Chicago-based company that provides analysis and insights on the foodservice industry, surveyed 1,500 consumers to find out what drives their purchasing decisions. The results were enlightening.

More than half of those surveyed (55 percent) said the quality of the meat or other protein used to make a burger is more important than any other factor. An additional 20 percent of consumers said that the quality of the meat is the second most important attribute for burgers. When asked to describe the adjectives they associate with quality meats, consumers mentioned certain types or cuts of beef, such as Angus or sirloin, the report says. Whether or not the meat is grass-fed, organic, or local also might improve the perception of quality for some consumers, according to the Technomic report.

The survey also found that a substantial 35 percent of consumers will still pay extra for premium burgers, an indication that operators and manufacturers may have to work harder to help justify higher price points to the consumer. They may have to emphasize quality, particularly with burger proteins, and a strong value proposition, the study says.

What this all adds up to, restaurant executives say, is a prime opportunity to deliver good value and great taste in the burger and sandwich markets, which can add up to significant profits. Positioning, they all agree, is the key.

Quality Contents

Part of the sales push with premium beef menu items is convincing consumers that they are indeed getting what they are paying for. And that means upping the ante in terms of quality.

“Burgers are America’s favorite food, yet there hasn’t been a lot of innovation in the last decade or so,” says Tom Ryan, founder of Smashburger. “That’s why we decided we would take up the mantle with a promise of better quality and taste.”

Smashburger, which will have 40-plus restaurants in the U.S. by the end of 2009, features only 100 percent certified Angus beef that is “smashed” or cooked to order on the grill. The company’s slogan, “Fresh, Never Frozen,” also feeds into the idea of delivering a greater value to the customer.

“These days customers want to know about the quality of the beef, how it is handled. They want to know if the meat is grass-fed, organic, or hormone-free,” Ryan says. “People want a better way to have the foods that are familiar to them.”

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