As if hamburger-focused concepts in the UK did not already have enough competition, now the Americans are coming, bringing many of their better burger brands across the Atlantic in order to capitalise on one of Britain’s hottest restaurant segments.

Five Guys among US burger chains to enter - or set to enter - UK

Five Guys among US burger chains to enter – or set to enter – UK

In the past year, US chains Burger Fi, Smashburger and Fatburger have announced plans to open their first locations in the UK, joining peers like Shake Shack and Five Guys, which have two and about 30 units in the market, respectively.

The burger business is bound to only get better. According to Technomic’s 2015 Top 100 UKChain Restaurant Report, burger concepts grew significantly in 2014, including a collective sales gain of 5.8% at fast-casual chains and 37.4% at full-service restaurants. What’s more, UK pub culture favours burger sales, even as competition intensifies from emerging casual-dining chains that put the burger front and centreor from the fast-casual segment, which is still in its infancy in the UK.

Burgers remain a fantastic vehicle for culinary innovation and experimentation with new flavours. Meanwhile, chains in the UK, as in the US, have found success in building burger sales by simply marketing their ingredient quality as better and fresher. To date, Gourmet Burger Kitchen has built the largest system of fast-casual burger restaurants, with 63 locations and nearly GBP 50 min total sales at the end of 2014. But the rest of the field is wide open. There are already dozens of like-minded concepts in the United States that have been taking market share from quick-service brands like McDonald’s and Burger King.But those fast-food giants have held up better in the UK than they have in the United States -or even in the rest of Europe, for that matter.

Chains need not position themselves in the ‘better and fresher’ segment to compete in the sector. Many of the emerging casual-dining brands and food-led pubs thatTechnomic tracks show great potential with innovative burgers promising over-the-top indulgence. This versatility opens up many avenues for sales growth not just for restaurant operators, but also for suppliers and ingredient manufacturers.

Menu development pros can go the indulgent route and craft the next version of TGI Fridays’ Bruce Lee Burger, which includes spicy Asian slaw, crispy noodles, sliced red chilli, jalapenos, toasted sesame seeds and chilli mayo. Or they can help a restaurant position themselves more like GBK, which appeals to consumers by touting its 100% prime beef, traditionally reared and grass fed on independent farms across the South West counties.

Operators and suppliers looking to grow burgers sales might also want to consider the adult-beverage programme that might complement a concept’s featured burgers. Interestingly, one US franchisor, Chanticleer Holdings, told news outlet Burger Business that the lack of a robust bar business thus far has held back its BGR better-burger concept from going into Britain and other European markets.

“From my experience with Hooters [a casual-dining brand franchised by Chanticleer], it would be difficult to do business in most of Europe without a pretty good beer or bar presence,” chairman and chief executive Mike Pruitt said. “The guys who run our Hooters in the UK have looked at BGR and have said it would need a little more bar presence for the UK.”

That might be true, but I wouldn’t let that stop me necessarily from expanding to the UK if I were running a US burger brand. Restaurants built around burgers are showing success in all sectors, including ones without heavy adult-beverage sales. McDonald’s UK system, for example, grew total sales 0.8%, compared to a 1.1% decline in the United States.

While many pubs smartly are embracing burgers to move away from a beverage-driven business -indeed, according to Technomic’s 2015 UK Foodservice Industry Wallchart, food-led pubs are expected to increase sales about 4% this year and drinks-led pubs are projected to be slightly negative -the market should still be hospitable to new chains. There ought to be room for everybody under the bun.

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