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LTOs, customisation trends make a splash amidst premium, plant-based burgers’ steady rise

KFC, Chicken Treat and Huxtaburger discuss the latest in the category.

Amidst the steady rise of premium and plant-based options in the burger category, a much more strategic or experimental use of limited-time offers and options to customise are shaping up to be the emerging opportunities that chains are exploring in the space.

“Major fast food burger shops have brought back fan favourite menu items for limited periods of time in an attempt to renew consumer interest in their brands. Examples include McDonald’s McRib and Hungry Jack’s Yumbo burger. By showing consumers their voices are heard, these brands are seeking to strengthen their relationship with their target audience,” IbisWorld senior industry analyst Suzy Oo told QSR Media, specifically expecting larger chains to utilise this particular strategy.

Consumers seeking to explore new flavour combinations, Oo noted, have increasingly shown preference to build-your-own options compared to traditional menu items, citing “more autonomy in their choices.”

“Operators that can get on this trend not only have the opportunity to retain consumer interest in a highly competitive fast-food environment but also the ability to expand revenue as consumers generally opt for more expensive ingredients to create gourmet meals when putting together their own burgers,” she said.

In separate interviews, KFC and Huxtaburger affirm the use of LTOs in this way.

“The key for us isn’t to be too repetitive but to keep fans guessing what new items will be available. Through strategically offering certain LTOs, we’ve built up excitement on certain products,” KFC South Pacific managing director and general manager Richard Wallis said, referring to their Tower Burger they brought back in February.

“We have been using LTOs more strategically to test our customers' engagement with varying price points and portion sizes,” added Huxtaburger general manager Jason Geriesi, citing their Parma Burger as an example.

“We have also been trialling LTOs that talk to a more targeted portion of our customer base. Our Morty Burger, for example, is a triple protein beast for those after a heavier option. We can use the learnings from these campaigns to better understand what our customer wants, tweak our menus and drive up our average spend,” he added, also revealing plans to look at lighter options to better understand the demand of lighter eaters, especially during lunch hours.

Chicken Treat, seeing innovation across the burger category, also acknowledges the rise of consumers’ looking for new tastes.

“The demand for more options from flexitarian and vegetarians is growing, but we are also seeing indulgence grow in the burger and fried chicken categories, with more and more iterations of fried chicken burgers in [the] market. We are definitely seeing visitation from a more adventurous customer segment who are looking for new taste experiences and flavour adventure,” chief executive Mimma Battista said.

Meshing trends without falsifying the product
IBISWorld’s latest report on fast food burger shops projects industry revenue to grow at an annualised 1.4% over the five years through 2025-26, to $9.1 billion.

Consumer preferences for premium or high-quality meals are expected to continue over the period, with unique experiences in terms of food and store ambiance cited as a priority. Many burger shops are also expected to include more meat alternatives and specialty dietary options.

Chains say the two concurring trends can be meshed together without falsifying the product.

“We sell fried chicken, and we’re proud of it. You’ll see in our ads that we own the fact we sell fried chicken - we do close-ups of our food and the cooking process to show how delicious it is, but always position it as a treat and to eat as part of a balanced diet,” Wallis said.

“I think consumers are demanding healthier options from QSR menus which has been partially driven by the convenience of delivery, in turn QSRs are reacting to these insights and taking up U.S. trends with more meat-free menu options. We’re about chicken for all, real chicken, real food, and are exploring real vegetarian offerings to compliment our menu, and making sure we are staying true to the brand,” Battista added.

“Although there are several factors that can contribute to making a burger better for you, I believe that when a customer commits to having a burger, they are looking for comfort food or to treat themselves. I believe it's important here to keep your supply chain clean and not have anything to hide,” Geriesi suggested.

Potential brunch opportunity with gourmet burgers
Gourmet or non-traditional burgers may also play a role in these new experiences. Oo said cafes and small coffee shops — incentivised by the country’s brunch culture — have dishing non-traditional burgers such as eggs benedict burgers and hot sauce fried chicken burgers. 

“Burger shops that can reposition themselves as a brunch spot by offering coffee and other hot beverages alongside unique burgers for on-premises consumption will likely benefit from this trend. Emerging brunch burgers can include waffles and croissants replacing buns, and the use of fusion sauces,” she suggested.

Japanese and Korean style-sandwiches, which mainly emphasise the use of soft milk bread, and crispy fried chicken or pork, are also rising in popularity as part of a trend seen in small sandwich shops, which IbisWorld said has constrained demand for burgers.

“Given Australia’s fast evolving foodie culture, newer food trends will likely emerge in the future, quickly overshadowing current trends,” Oo concluded.

Remaining focused on customer experience
To complement their product innovations, chains continue to take the time to improve their customer experience strategy - with some basing it on the behaviours they saw since the pandemic hit.

“We’re continuing to harness the power of technology through all aspects of the customer journey, including introducing our own delivery service through our app and website, the in-restaurant experience through innovative ways to order and as well as our drive-thrus,” Wallis said.

“Creating a strong customer experience starts with building brand love from the inside out, getting team members and fans to be our spokespeople as they’re the best advocates you could ask for.”

Battista, seeing steady growth in Chicken Treat’s delivery channel, teased a new e-commerce platform offering pick-up, delivery and catering menus and options.

The WA-headquartered chain, soon expanding to ACT and NSW, is also installing new drive-thru infrastructure to improve menu board navigation and is trialling new digital menu boards, kiosks and “other technology.” A new “Voice of Customer” program is also being implemented “so we can really understand how our customers feel about us, so we can improve their experience,” she said.

Huxtaburger, observing a “slow, yet interesting” shift away from delivery and single eaters comprising a majority of online orders in the most recent quarter, said it will be strongly focused on launching a new loyalty app.

“As a whole though, we aim to create a very bespoke loyalty program that will give our customers incentive to choose Huxtaburger beyond just the product! There will be a lot of layers and features to help speak to a wide audience. Further to that though, the journey of each of our customers will then be mapped out based on their behaviour and interaction with not just the app, but the brand as a whole,” he said.

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