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The better-burger industry is sizzling, a new report shows. Featuring better meat, buns, toppings and sides, these upscale, fast-casual burgers are helping drive overall growth in the limited-service burger segment (LSR), which is the largest menu segment by revenue in the restaurant industry. The legendary actress Clara Peller, who gained fame in the classic Wendy's commercials in the 1980s, no longer would have to ask, "Where's the beef?"
Fast-casual burger chains sales grew by 20.8 percent last year, while limited-service burger chains overall grew 3.7 percent, according to the report by Technomic, a food industry consultancy. And there is plenty of room for continued growth, as fast-casual sales accounted for only 3.2 percent of LSR burger-segment sales.
Some of the industry's rising stars are handily outpacing the segment as whole, according to the report. Smashburger grew sales by more than 71 percent in 2011, for example, and Five Guys Burgers and Fries increased sales by 24 percent.
The better-burger phenomenon has not gone unnoticed by other restaurateurs. Many full-service chains are adding gourmet burgers to their menus and launching spinoff concepts that feature build-your-own burgers, Technomics said.
Quick-service burger chains have raised the quality of their burgers as well. Consumers place a premium on the quality of their burgers, the report said, with nearly three quarters (74 percent) ranking quality/taste of the meat or protein the most important part of the burger.
And cheesy is good, at least when it comes to burgers. Cheeseburgers are the top hamburger type on LSR burger-chain menus, the report found.
"Better-burger concepts have a lot going for them," said Darren Tristano, Technomic's executive vice president. "First, they have the benefit of a basic and beloved menu focus. Raising the quality of the protein, bun, toppings and sides has been a winning formula. And a number of celebrity chefs have opened concepts that focus on burgers made with premium ingredients, helping to raise their profile."