A funny thing happens when consumers continue to downgrade their dining from fine or casual dining to quick service and fast casual restaurants. What happens is that burgers and sandwiches begin to sound more like full plate meals, and condiments get fancier to keep people interested in staying at the lower end restaurant segments.

These upgraded condiments and sauces have taken root in the burger realm, where “Better Burger” chains upped the ante for better flavors in all burger venues, even drive-thrus. When places like the Counter and Smashburger list dozens of sauces, regular ketchup and mustard won’t do. Here’s a few example of how other burger offerings are keeping pace:

  • Bagger Dave’s Legendary Burger Tavern offers a Kickin’ Cheddar Burger: “Beef patties with cheddar cheese, lettuce, diced onion, tomato, pickle slices, and horseradish ranch sauce on a plain bun; it’s plain because if we added any more flavor, your mouth would explode.” The Kickin’ sounds downright traditional when compared to Bagger Dave’s PB&J(alapeños) Burger with turkey patties, bacon, cheddar cheese, shredded lettuce, Chipotle BBQ Sauce, jalapeños, and Natural Cream-Nut Peanut Butter. While peanut butter has made its way into many Asian sauces, this combination is a first among Menu Insight sightings.
  • T.G.I. Friday’s recently made a permanent addition of a Steakhouse Bleu Cheese Burger, an Angus patty piled with applewood-smoked bacon, caramelized onions, maison butter and creamy bleu cheese on a buttery toasted brioche bun. Maison butter is a fancy flavored and chilled butter not usually seen outside of fine dining.
  • Culver’s Colby Jack Pub Burger is a fresh, never frozen Midwest-raised beef patty topped with Wisconsin Colby Jack cheese, crispy onions, 4-pepper mayo with a dash of A.1. Steak Sauce on a Supper Club bun and served with Wisconsin cheese curds.
  • Whataburger added Spicy Ketchup to its condiment tray in December, 2012. The new Spicy Ketchup, was produced in a limited batch and available only while supplies lasted, which turned out to be about four months. The base of the Spicy Ketchup recipe was Whataburger’s original Fancy Ketchup, with a kick complementary of red jalapeño.

Fancier toppings are the most popular condiments added by restaurants chains

As beef prices continue to rise, burger places have also put fancier flavors to work on chicken and turkey sandwiches as well as the many new chicken bites that have popped up on menus.

  • In September, Good Times Burgers tested a Chile Chicken Sandwich in select markets. It included green chile chutney and whole roasted green Chiles.
  • McAlister’s Deli channels a Thanksgiving meal in The Patriot, a limited time offer (LTO) featuring Butterball smoked turkey, Swiss, lettuce, tomato, lite mayo and orange cranberry sauce, served on harvest wheat bread.
  • Panera Bread combined roasted turkey and cranberry for a LTO panini antibiotic-free roasted turkey, garlic and herb cheese spread, zesty cranberry mostarda and fresh spinach on ciabatta.
  • Popeye’s offers six signature sauces including Bayou Buffalo, Barbeque, Sweet Heat, Mardi Gras Mustard, Buttermilk Ranch, and Blackened Ranch to complement its Handcrafted Tenders.
  • KFC announced the launch of Dip’ems Extra Crispy chicken tenders with six dipping sauces, including three new selections: Creamy Buffalo, Orange Ginger, and Bacon Ranch, which join the already popular line-up of Honey BBQ, Honey Mustard, and Creamy Ranch for dipping sauces.

Also, no one misses the meat in vegetarian sandwich options when the fillings and sauces are gourmet quality. At Ram Restaurant & Brewery a portabello sandwich layers grilled marinated and sliced portabello mushroom on a baccia roll with roasted onion, red bell pepper, zucchini, roasted red pepper aioli and Wisconsin mozzarella.

At McAlister’s Deli the California Classic is a meat-free option with sliced bell peppers, red onions, lettuce, tomato, Gambino’s olive salad and provolone cheese, served on pita.

With flavors like these, fine dining is more of a state of mind than a restaurant segment.

Mintel Menu Insights:

  • Up your condiment game by offering slight variations of classics, like horseradish or chile ranch.
  • Stick with a culinary theme, as Panchero’s Mexican Grill has done with a cilantro lime vinaigrette. It’s the brand’s first ever proprietary salad dressing, and uses fresh jalapeño and tomatillos as a base and is used on salads or other menu items such as the burrito bowl.
  • Or try a little bit of both techniques, as Chili’s Bar and Grill has done with its first ever pizza offerings. Instead of classic red sauce, the pies feature cumin-lime sour cream and pico de gallo to complement ground beef, salsa, cheddar, Monterey Jack, mozzarella, red onion and cilantro.
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