Nine billion burger orders were served at U.S. restaurants and food service in 2014, an increase of 3% and the first gain in five years, according to market research firm NPD Group. That means every man, woman and child in America on average ordered a burger about every two weeks.
In comparison, orders of grilled chicken sandwiches, which tend to be the chief rival to a burger, fell 9% to 1.32 billion servings ordered.
“We love our burgers,” said Bonnie Riggs, NPD’s restaurant industry analyst, in an interview. “Restaurants are placing more focus on them and adding choices of different things. There are a lot of deals and new concepts that focus on burgers. It’s just such a bright spot.”
Of course, the figures don’t include all the burgers Americans cook or grill themselves or for friends. But even with the added demand for burgers, Americans in a restaurant are still more likely to order some kind of sandwich, according to NPD data. The sandwich category, which includes subs and other hot and cold sandwiches and excludes burgers, shrunk 2% to 12.4 billion servings.
Demand for pizza, meanwhile, rose 2% to 5.2 billion servings.
The increase in burger orders comes as overall visits to restaurants were flat compared with 2013 — and declined at both fast-food burger joints and casual dining and family-dining restaurants. Total restaurant visits are still down 1.3 billion from 2008, when the Great Recession hit, to 61 billion, according to NPD.
Restaurants are experimenting with new variations — and cost-conscious restaurant-goers are opting for a cheaper meal, particularly as the rising price of beef pushes up the cost of steak and other items. Burgers are particularly popular at restaurants with limited service, where restaurant operators rank them above both pizza and chicken sandwiches among perennial favorites, a separate National Restaurant Association report showed.
Among fast-food spots, Wendy’s Co. now offers a pretzel bacon cheeseburger as well as a bacon and blue cheese burger on brioche, in addition to the traditional version with American cheese and on a bun.
Restaurants, including full-service, fast casual and even some quick-service spots, are using artisanal and ciabatta bread and serving sides like sweet potato fries in addition to french fries.
Wendy’s innovations have paid off. Its North American same-store sales have outpaced that of larger rival McDonald’s Corp.
The growing popularity of fast-casual burger chains such as Five Guys and Shake Shack also helped burgers sizzle. This segment saw a 9% jump last year to 240 million burger servings, making it the fastest growing channel, according to NPD.
Indeed, Five Guys touts made-to-order burgers and over 250,000 ways to customize a burger. Shake Shack recently filed for an initial public offering, and the shares could price this week.
[by Andria Cheng, writing for MARKETWATCH]
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