Trends & Insights

Healthful Burgers Add Sizzle to Menus

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Foodservice operators offer patrons more nutritious choices when it comes to menuing burgers.

While Americans' love affair with the ever-popular hamburger shows no signs of cooling down any time soon, many consumers are looking to foodservice operators to provide them with a flavorful selection of more nutritious choices.

Burgers and sandwiches rank at the top of the list of those items consumers would like to see offered with more healthful options, according to Datassential's “2016 Keynote Report: The New Healthy.” Forty-four percent of those individuals surveyed for the report say restaurateurs should add healthier burger variations to their menus.

In response to this growing demand, operators are exploring ways to broaden their ingredient palette to encompass a wider range of more healthful burger components. “Whole-grain breads, lean proteins, vegetable toppings and flavor-packed sauces are healthy tweaks which don’t compromise flavor,” says Joe Garber, marketing coordinator for Chicago-based Datassential research firm. “Think sauces like sriracha and jams or pickled vegetables which can provide extra flavor without adding fat.”

Foodservice operators working in health-care facilities in particular are catering to this growing trend. Nancy Farrell, of Farrell Dietitian Services and national media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, agrees that it's a good idea for health-care foodservice operators to offer more nutritious hamburger variations. “In addition to showing care and interest in the health of employees and visitors, there should be a sense of practicing what we preach and role-modeling healthful eating patterns — especially in a health-care environment.”

Farrell adds that “It helps to provide a real-life learning forum to educate consumers on possible healthy alternatives that influence how burgers are made at home.”

Foodservice experts caution, however, that merchandising these changes as being “better-for-you” is not always the best route to take. “You need to be very strategic about menus these days,” says Jeffrey Quasha, corporate executive R&D chef at Morrison Healthcare, which operates more than 650 hospital accounts across the U.S. “Guests want to choose to be healthy and not have it be forced. We can still control the quality of the meat, the artisanal bread sizes, locally sourced dairy and produce, and switch to products like [egg-free mayonnaise substitute]. But we need to be stealthy about our approach.”

Many chefs start with the meat source when constructing a more healthful burger. In addition to offering lean beef, a growing number of health-care facilities are menuing blended burgers made with a combination of beef and chopped vegetables or nonanimal protein as well as leaner turkey burgers.

Buns are another component which can be made more nutritious. Fred Wager, regional support chef with Metz Culinary Management, which operates foodservice accounts in 60-plus health-care facilities, says the Dallas, Pennsylvania-based company offers a variety of in-house baked rolls, such as multi-grain, oatmeal and whole-grain, depending upon the location of the facility.

Creative toppings

The variety and combination of nutritious toppings and dressings is limited only by a chef's imagination. In addition to topping burgers with raw, grilled, sautéed or roasted vegetables, operators are offering options such as pickled vegetables, kimchee, jalapeño peppers, pico de gallo, salsa, fruit and nut paste blends, yogurt-infused dressings, Dijon mustard, low calorie/low sodium cheeses, harissa and sriracha — the use of which on burgers has increased 1,000 percent over the last four years, according to Datassential.

Just being mindful of healthier options is a great start for foodservice operators exploring this trend. “You may want to offer spinach instead of lettuce to boost the nutrient content,” Farrell suggests.

Metz Culinary Management addresses consumers' interest in having more nutritious options by offering a build-your-own burger station. While 100-percent homemade beef patties are the company standard for hospital cafeterias and catering, Metz also offers burgers which are a blend of beef and chopped mushrooms as well as turkey and veggie burgers.

Metz incorporates customized burger stations into its seasonal menu cycles, offering the likes of avocado, sautéed cauliflower, caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms and roasted tomato compote as well as mango salsa for its turkey burgers. Other toppings include a puree of white cannellini beans with roasted tomato, fresh basil and garlic, or smashed avocado with fresh cilantro and pico de gallo.

Morrison Healthcare is addressing the better-for-you burger trend with its Handcrafted Burgers program. The Atlanta-based company's organic, grass-fed and locally sourced grill program features scratch-made burgers built to order using a signature burger blend mix, a roasted marinated portabella mushroom or a “Handcrafted” turkey burger, Quasha says. “Bringing it even closer to home, the sauces are made with [egg-free mayonnaise substitute], while its artisanal breads and produce are locally sourced whenever possible (within a 50 mile radius).”

The Baja Burger – which includes fresh jalapeños, house-made guacamole, pepper jack cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion and chipotle mayo, served on a multi-grain bun – is an example of a popular Morrison Healthcare better-for-you burger.

Well-received program

Quasha says Morrison's Handcrafted Burger program has been well received by customers. “We have tested and opened more than 40 Handcrafted Burgers across the country in the past year and have seen a huge increase in return sales, increased loyalty sales and an average guest check increase ranging from 6 to 9 percent per guest. The guests are willing to wait two to three minutes longer and pay a higher premium for a healthier, made-to-order, organic grass-fed and chef-inspired Handcrafted Burger versus the old-school burger.”

Morrison also is testing other concepts like Grills and Greens, where burger buns aren't offered and the patties are wrapped in lettuce leaves, Quasha says.

Food suppliers also are focusing on the better-for-you burger market. AdvancePierre Foods, a producer of burger products for the foodservice industry, offers several flavorful and healthful burgers that operators can add to their menus. Its Smart Picks Burger with Chipotle Corn Relish takes a flame-broiled beef patty made with low-sodium diced tomatoes, corn, pinto beans, vinegar, chili powder and chipotle powder, tops it with chipotle corn relish and places it on a whole-grain bun.

Another popular recipe from AdvancePierre Foods is a Beef Patty Sandwich with Hawaiian Pineapple-Basil Sauce. This fully cooked beef patty is topped with Hawaiian pineapple-basil sauce made with pineapple, garlic powder, low sodium soy sauce, vinegar, ground ginger and dried basil.

As the trend for healthful burgers evolves, industry experts anticipate that operators will continue to add more choices to their menus. “People don't want to be told what to eat, but they want options,” Metz's Wager says. “So we'll continue to work hand in hand with our clients to grow these programs.”

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