Traditional innovation

by Bernard Shire
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Consumers are looking for a combination of traditional tastes as well as something new when it comes to today's burgers. 

Most of today’s meat companies that process hamburgers for a living, would attest to two things that at first seem contradictory: Burger products are becoming more and more innovative, featuring many different kinds of “burger designs.” At the same time, they say, hamburgers are among the most traditional meat dishes there are. So how can this be?

“On the one hand, the changes in burger design are taking place because what customers and consumers want in a burger is changing,” says Jamie Schweid, president of Schweid & Sons, a family owned and operated, fourth generation ground beef purveyor headquartered in Carlstadt, New Jersey, not far from New York City. Running the company with Jamie are his brother, Brad Schweid, executive vice president, and their father, founder David Schweid.

So there are “natural” burgers – and there is a big move toward natural ground beef conforming to how government regulators define “natural” foods as “minimally processed.” Schweid believes this move is based on two factors: the affordability of ground beef and its availability. “When the cattle supply was tight, there was no incentive for this,” he says. “But in the last 12 to 18 months, the demand came back. Today, consumers are very interested in where their food comes from and how it is processed. The people who sell burgers and ground beef to them – restaurants and grocery stores – want to supply customers with what they want.”

Burger processors like Schweid & Sons are making burgers from different blends of beef: the chuck brisket, the prime burger, Wagyu beef burger and the Angus beef chuck burger. 

Brent Cator of Canada’s Cardinal Meat Specialists Ltd. based in Brampton, Ontario, believes the “natural” term is misused and is not classified by rigid standards. Although it has driven significant volume in the industry, he is hearing from some of his customers that “natural” may have run its “marketing” course.

In addition to wanting to know what’s in their meat, consumers are also looking for more adventure in what they’re eating, says Cator, president and CEO of the family owned business going back more than 80 years, specializing in burgers and fully cooked products, selling all over Canada and in selected areas of the United States.

“There is a strong push for products perceived to be more transparent and at the same time, more adventurous,” Cator says. “On the transparent side, people are looking for organic, from cattle raised without antibiotics and added hormones, less processed, and more like ‘I had made it at home from scratch.’” For these demands, the company offers blends meeting all those needs with a product called Natural Texture Forming, which forms products with near zero pressure.

Blended Burgers

Looking at changes in burgers, Schweid points to different burger blends: the chuck brisket, the prime burger, highly marbled Wagyu beef and raised all natural, beef chuck from Black Angus cattle, and the Royal Choice, from Certified Hereford beef.

Cator talks about selling ground beef and burgers to restaurants that build on creative toppings. “One area that is clearly growing in interest is ‘stuffed,’” he says. “Chefs love the creativity element in that,” he says. The company makes stuffed burgers that do not explode with heat, without the risk of hot liquids leaking from the patties’ center.

He also thinks foodservice brands looking for new items around the breakfast menu may soon take advantage of pork sausage-based stuffed items.

But Schweid also notes the continued popularity of the traditional, like ½-lb. burgers. “It’s always been the driver, a value proposition. Brioche rolls continue to be very popular – in fact brioche rolls always were the most popular. And we offer a burger we call the “All-American – 100 percent ground beef chuck – can’t get more traditional than that.”

But then he points to another change that isn’t about the meat: “Potato rolls are becoming a force in burgers.”

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