Slideshow: Consumers trading down is a boon for burger makers

by Keith Nunes
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CHICAGO – Record high beef prices have prompted consumers to trade down, to forgo cuts of beef in favor of hamburgers. As a result, there were 9 billion servings of hamburgers ordered in US restaurants and food service outlets in 2014, a 3 percent increase compared to the previous year, according to The NPD Group.

Corresponding with the servings ordered at restaurants is the volume of ground beef shipments to restaurant and food service outlets. Bulk ground beef shipments to total food service outlets increased by 2 percent, according to NPD’s SupplyTrack service, which tracks products shipped from broadline distributors to food service operators.

As a result, while consumers were ordering more hamburgers, they were ordering fewer sandwiches. Sandwich servings fell 2 percent in 2014 compared to 2013, a volume loss The NPD Group estimated to be 201 million servings. Grilled chicken sandwiches had a particularly difficult year, with servings declining 9 percent.

The demand for hamburgers even translated to the casual dining restaurant channel, which saw servings of hamburgers rise 4 percent. Burgers were added to casual dining restaurant menus to offset higher beef prices and the need to charge more for beef entrees, according to The NPD Group. The impact was stark, as beef entrée servings declined by 8 percent at casual dining restaurants, a volume loss of 55 million servings.

“The success of burgers in 2014 was a combination of factors,” said Bonnie Riggs, restaurant industry analyst for NPD. “Quick-service restaurant chains launched new burger items, casual dining restaurants added more burger items to the menu to offset higher beef costs, and Americans simply love their burgers.”

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