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Hamburgers are fantastic. How can a slab of beef with an astounding array of toppings between bread go wrong?
But burger joints are getting more wild by the day – such culinary expeditions as the Ramen Burger and PYT Burger’s “Deep-Fried Twinkie Burger” (yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like) keep popping up.
And as delicious as these may taste, they come off as gimmicks.
Why the stunts? Because while burgers still sit at the top of the list for fast-casual eating, their hold is slipping.
The rising generation of millennials, roughly people born between 1985 and 1995, are showing a strong preference for more foreign flavors and cuisines. This generation is far more diverse than the previous, and this is reflected in the kinds of food they gravitate toward.
Not only have the tastes changed, but the desire for authenticity has as well. No, not Sartre’s authentic living – as QSR Magazine reports, “If a sandwich is billed as a Vietnamese banh mi, [millennials] expect it to look, feel, and taste like an authentic banh mi.”
That’s one finicky demographic. But as a recent Forbes article mentions, with $200 billion in buying power, businesses are bound to listen.
Diverse chains are spreading like wildfire, following the trail blazed by Chipotle in the early 2000s. Mexican cuisine has transfixed the nation’s palate, and Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food is gaining ground. Hummus, the humble Middle Eastern bean dip, has exploded onto the scene.
Baum+Whiteman, a food and restaurant consulting company, reports in their 2015 Food and Beverage forecast that hummus is out-trending salsa, and fermented food is en vogue.
Perhaps this is where fusion cuisine comes into play. Burgers, as American as apple pie, could use some foreign influence. Flavor mashups are big, and the trend is beginning to move into burger territory.
Restaurants like Kobeyaki in NYC and Umami Burger on the West Coast are dabbling in the fusion burger fracas, with incredibly successful results.
So is the burger trend dead?
Far from it, as long as the burger sector recognizes that shifting tastes demands a shifting approach to flavor, not Evel Knievel stunt work. Otherwise, a deep-friend Twinkie burger may be playing the fiddle while Rome burns.