The Burger Bubble
Modern lessons from that essential American craving
"The once-humble hamburger has gotten too fancy for its own good." writes the Wall Street Journal's Julie Jargon, who pithily sums up the dilemma:
As the number of outlets serving better burgers featuring nontraditional toppings and artisan bunsskyrocketed over the past decade, so has the average burger tab, turning some customers off.
Brian Cockerline, a 20-year-old Rutgers University student, used to go to Five Guys for a burger once a week in South Plainfield, N.J. With fries and a drink, his tab was around $13. Now, he is cooking burgers at home instead.
I like Five Guys but I can buy ground beef and one onion and get pretty close to the same burger for half the cost, says Mr. Cockerline, who rarely goes to Five Guys anymore. A hamburger, to me, is not a luxury, he said.
Mrs. Jargon goes on to note two eye-opening facts that belie the fulsome expansion of "better burgers" into almost every part of the country. Most importantly, lunch traffic to quick-serve hamburger restaurants dropped by 5% last year. That steep decline is the largest year-over-year decline that market-research firm NPD Group Inc. has ever recorded.
Its not sustainable for them to expect people to show up and spend $13 on a burger on a consistent basis, said Kurt Kane, chief concept and marketing officer at Wendys Co. That would seem sage analysis indeed: Mr. Cockerline now mostly goes to Wendys when he is too busy to cookbecause he cant make a meal any cheaper than $4, he said.
A second fact underlines the simple economics: Wendy's own internal analysis show that, on average, people only have $4 to $6 to spend on lunch each day.