KANSAS CITY, MO. – In the “Building a Better Burger” webinar, held July 14 by the North American Meat Institute (NAMI) and sponsored by Provisur Technologies Inc., the association invited three keynote speakers to discuss the ins and outs of burgers. The panel covered current trends, innovations and processes behind producing burgers for today’s consumers.

With over 30 years of industry trend knowledge, Lynn Dornblaser, director of Innovation and Insight at Mintel Group Ltd., kicked off the discussion by highlighting what she knows best: key research insights.

“Absolutely the most important thing to remember is what’s most important to consumers,” Dornblaser said. “It’s obvious, but it’s easy to forget sometimes: Food has to taste good. When we ask consumers what’s most important to them with the foods that they buy, taste is number one, more so than affordability.”

The top protein choice for burgers is the traditional one, beef, but Dornblaser noted that consumers are looking for untraditional toppings and pairings. According to Mintel’s research, over 75% of consumers say they like trying different types of burgers and are looking to enhance the American staple.

When it comes to the most popular toppings, bacon is the winner, Dornblaser said. 

“It’s about protein, on protein, on protein.”

However, many foodservice companies recognize the growing public desire for innovative flavors and ingredients and are acting on it. 

Carl’s Jr. recently launched a breakfast burger with a charbroiled beef patty, bacon, egg, American cheese, hash rounds and ketchup on a seeded bun. Chicago-based restaurant Tavern on Rush modified the traditional American burger by adding “scallion aioli” to its Tavern Burger, a twist on the typical ketchup and mustard condiments.

Other foodservice operators are quick to cater to consumers’ willingness to try different types of burger patties as well.

Food chain First Watch introduced the Baja Turkey Burger to its menu, consisting of a lean white-meat turkey patty with avocado, organic mixed greens, pico de gallo, mayo and Horseradish Havarti on a brioche bun.

Aside from taste, the most important attributes to consumers when purchasing protein products are price and brand. Health-related attributes fall closely behind, Dornblaser said.

Heather George, Cargill’s senior marketing manager, added to the discussion on taste, noting that sometimes consumers perceive they prefer one thing when their taste says otherwise.

“There’s a growing perception that fresh patties are higher in quality and more premium than IQF patties, but in reality, when you do sensory testing with consumers and they don’t know that the patty is fresh or frozen, IQF patties consistently outperform fresh patties.”

George said in blind, sensory testing, 63% of consumers preferred frozen patties to fresh.

Lowell Sampson, vice president of Engineering and Food Science for Provisur Technologies, explained the importance of building a better burger before even considering the toppings.

Sampson theorized that the best burger comes from using high-quality raw materials — the purest form of burger components like water, protein and fat.

“The more we keep those components in their innate state, in whole and without breaking them up, the better the burger we’re going to make — whether that be beef, pork, turkey, you name it,” Sampson said.