Rumor has it, the first “smash burger” was created more than 50 years ago in Ashland, Ky., when a worker at Dairy Cheer café started using a No. 10 bean can to “smash” burger patties while they were cooking on the griddle to saturate the burger with juicy beef flavor and make the outer edges crispy. Today, burger chains around the country – Smashburger, Freddy’s, Shake Shack, Culver’s and Steak and Shake – are keeping the smash burger trend going strong.
Arkansas City, Kan.-based Creekstone Farms offers 4-oz smash burger-style pucks as a foodservice and direct-to-consumer e-commerce item.
“That product was born out of the fact that we have both domestic and international customers that are proceeding with this smash burger concept,” said Dan Stewart, director of marketing for Creekstone. “The pucks are designed to be smashed down completely and laced out really nice like a smash burger. Tucker’s out of Oklahoma or Freddy’s or Shake Shack, a lot of chains are featuring that product. Other foodservice customers are looking for that style of product because it provides the portion they need, and it holds up well. When it gets to their location, they can smash it, grill it, get a quick cook time, and get a thorough cook. Our ‘smash burger’ pucks work great for that application.”
From a production and shipping standpoint, Stewart said the smash burger pucks are easy for Creekstone to produce. Machines form the 4-oz pucks, which are approximately 2 ½ inches in diameter. Four pucks are shrink wrapped in rollstock packaging to form 1-lb packages for foodservice and e-commerce customers.
Currently, Creekstone doesn’t produce or market its smash burger pucks for retail. On the retail side, Stewart thinks consumers need additional education about what to do with that style of burger when it comes to cooking and preparation.
“We have a little more work to do to get the consumer educated at the retail level, but there’s an opportunity for us,” he said. “We could sell a four-pack of those pucks and with the right packaging and design and the right education, the consumer would really enjoy being able to replicate that same kind of burger at home.
“People are used to going to a Freddy’s or a Shake Shack and getting a good cheesy, yummy burger and they want to replicate that at home, but many don’t know what ingredients they need,” Stewart added. “Quite simply, you need a really nice bun and a really great ground beef product and then you can put whatever condiments you prefer on there.
“This product should be an easy foodservice to retail transition.”
But until some more education is done, Creekstone will keep its smash burger puck format for its foodservice and e-commerce customers.
Creekstone Farms is known for its Black Angus beef – that’s the only type of beef it sells. The genetically selected animals are raised for Creekstone – all slaughtered, processed and further processed at the facility.
“We are one of the few facilities that is fabricating product that is literally coming around the corner, slaughtering it and further processing it all in-house,” Stewart said. “We’re a closed-loop system. We grind only in-house material. It’s all our 100% Black Angus genetics.
“We’ve been around as a production facility for around 20 years. The story has been consistent. We started with genetics and we fine-tuned those genetics. We’re only focusing on one product, on one specific breed and certified product. We’ve gotten really good at that – at that consistency, that flavor, that tenderness that customers have gotten used to with Creekstone.”
Creekstone continues to build on its reputation for quality, premium products among its foodservice, retail and e-commerce customers. The brisket blend burger is one of its premium offerings, building on its long-time standing in the barbecue category.
“Our reputation is very strong in the barbecue category,” Stewart said. “We have some very high-profile foodservice customers using our briskets and our barbecue products across the country – Aaron Franklin, Bruce Kalman at Soulbelly in Las Vegas, Chris Prieto with Prime Barbecue in North Carolina, Noble Smoke in North Carolina. That barbecue reputation makes our brisket in extremely high demand.
“We’ve been able to create some signature blends in our ground beef that include our certified brisket. Customers know that reputation and that elevated perception of the barbecue product. So, they can get a piece of that quality barbecue product, but in their premium ground beef.”
Creekstone calls these premium ground beef products its signature blend.
“A lot of foodservice processors have a signature blend where they just throw a piece of meat in there with the ground beef and call it a ‘signature’ product,” Stewart said. “Ours is a true signature blend that has the right balance between lean point, flavor profile and the Creekstone name.”
Before the pandemic, Creekstone’s business was 60% foodservice, 40% retail. But when the pandemic hit and restaurants were temporarily shuttered, their business skewed 70% retail, 30% foodservice. Now the business is balancing back out.
“We’re looking at it as an opportunity to grow our branded presence in retail,” Stewart said. “Being able to put a custom blended, premium, fresh ground beef product out in a patty or brick format at retail is a big opportunity for us in the future.
“I think the pandemic exposed some opportunities for processors and distributors to look at what they were doing, to make some adjustments. I think we were already doing that a little, realizing there was an opportunity to grow our brand awareness at retail. We knew we had a great reputation at foodservice and we needed to connect those dots. I think eventually it would have gotten there, but the changes during the pandemic just sped things up a bit.”
Before the pandemic, Creekstone was focusing on trying to connect the brand more to the retail and online consumer by building on the existing foodservice relationship. Stewart said there’s a lot of opportunity for that in Texas, because those consumers know Creekstone.
“We’re in 11 of the Top 50 barbecue restaurants in Texas,” Stewart said. “When you talk brisket and barbecue and Creekstone in Texas, they just know. But we still need to get that retail connection down there. We want that same consumer to go into retail and see and recognize our brand.”
Creekstone has been able to make that connection in the Charlotte, NC, area. The brand is in well-known barbecue restaurants such as Noble Smoke and Prime Barbecue. Creekstone branded products can also be found in Earth Fare supermarkets in the area.
“Now the customers who go to those barbecue places can also find Creekstone in the supermarket they shop in,” Stewart said. “We’re never going to be fully branded in a Kroger-sized operation – we’re not that big of a producer, we’re still a boutique brand. But we’re working on focusing on premium outlets that can really tell our story.”
Now that customers are eating in restaurants again while still enjoying at-home meals, Creekstone can continue to work on name and brand recognition from foodservice through to retail.
When product availability was down throughout 2020, customers were forced to buy what was available. Stewart thinks the pandemic helped retail customers get more accustomed to different styles of packaging.
“Consumers are becoming more accustomed to different packaging,” Stewart said. “In some cases during COVID, certain products weren’t available, so the opportunity to try a different packaging format came about out of necessity. Now consumers are trying more things out – at retail and through online ordering.
“Film is a lot easier to manage and work with and people are just getting more used to it now. There’s more and more brick and rollstock packaging out there. Foodservice already gets their product that way,” Stewart added. “There’s an efficiency there for us to run the same packaging for both foodservice and retail customers. We’re looking at it from a cost perspective, availability perspective and efficiency perspective.”