It’s time for better burgers

October 22, 2009

Dagwood and Wimpy smile themselves to sleep, dreaming of better burgers.

Dagwood and Wimpy smile themselves to sleep, dreaming of better burgers. If characters that make us laugh can be so committed, why can’t the product development teams at fast-feeders at least match their enthusiasm and imagination?  

It’s their profession, after all. Why do so many millions of consumers have to get by with such uninspired renditions—some with heart-stopping nutritional profiles—when all they’d really like is some tasty, filling protein (preferably with good mouth feel) at an affordable price?

The ‘what if’ test is long overdue at fast-food chains, in our view at What if we used white wheat buns instead of flour? What if we stepped up to ground mustard? What if we served fresher tomatoes or ketchup without high fructose corn syrup? What if we selected red onions instead of white? What if we layered on cheddar instead of American cheese? What if we served sweet potato fries instead of white? 

Why not deconstruct the burger, consider elevating every element, and following the lead of the step up to Angus beef? House analysts at each operator will probably determine what they can afford to upgrade. What’s clear to us, however, is they can’t afford to bank on the bad economy continuing to push their traffic counts. Hard times won’t last forever. Unless their foods truly appeal, rather than just fill the belly, people will run to better eateries as soon as they can. And the chains could crash.

To make their windfall last, we urge fast-food chains to commence the quality upgrade of the burger. This doesn’t mean covering beef with bacon, or extra layers of blah cheese, or calorie-rich sauces. It means a rise in the intrinsic quality of the core ingredients. This will improve taste, which matters most, and it will make the foods more nutritionally palatable to a far broader base of potential patrons. We think people will see the value in this, and will respond accordingly.

That’s the win these chains need.  We feel, for instance, that the new Wendy’s campaign focusing on freshness only speaks to one aspect (albeit a key one) of a ‘better burger.’ It would be better still if the chain’s executives were quietly reevaluating their signature item—as we encourage all the fast-feeders to do.