The Ruby’s Diner chain continues its “Endless Summer” promotion this month with the addition of a Premium Baja Turkey Burger, the latest in a series of turkey burgers strutting onto American menus. The most visible was the three-item line of Charbroiled Turkey burgers that Hardee’s tested in December 2010 and then rolled out systemwide in March this year. TV advertising featured, appropriately and cleverly, Miss Turkey.
If it seems that turkey burgers have become substantially more common on menus, that’s because it’s true. Data compiled for BurgerBusiness.com by researcher Mintel from its Mintel Menu Insights database show that the number of turkey burgers has risen 53% in the last three years, from 36 on the menus it charts in 2009’s Q1 to 55 in the first quarter of 2011.
Even greater, however, has been the rise in turkey as a burger option. For example, the menu at the BJ’s restaurant chain informs guests, “Make any burger a turkey burger with a 7 oz., 100% white meat, grilled turkey patty at no additional cost.” According to Mintel data, the number of beef burgers on menus for which customers have the option of substituting turkey as the protein has jumped 84% since 2009’s first quarter, rising from 104 to 191 in three years.
A few details in the data are worth noting. One is that a natural assumption is that turkey burgers have spread in reaction to recent beef price increases. But while it’s true that the number of turkey burgers jumped 17% between 2010’s fourth quarter and 2011’s first quarter, turkey burgers’ growth has been steady over the past three years, increasing 29% in the six months from 2009’s Q4 to 2010 Q2. It’s not just a 2011 phenomenon.
This indicates to me that turkey burgers’ growth results from consumer demand as well as operators’ profit interest. Turkey was hot before beef prices made poultry cool. Jack in the Box added its Turkey, Bacon & Cheddar Grilled Sandwich in February 2010. The Burgerville chain in the Pacific Northwest made a turkey burger its seasonal LTO in November 2009 and created a Crispy Onion & Spinach Turkey Burger in April 2010, before the sharp beef-price rise.
Also interesting is that, despite Hardee’s (and later Carl’s Jr.’s) much-publicized success with turkey burgers, quick-service restaurants (QSRs) lag far behind casual dining in adding turkey. Mintel Menu Insights data finds that 42% (24 of 55) of turkey burgers on menus in Q1 2011 can be found at casual-dining restaurants. Ruby Tuesday, for example, offers an Avocado Turkey Burger topped with avocado, Swiss cheese, applewood-smoked bacon, red onion and pickles. T.G.I. Friday’s menu lists just five burgers, but one is a turkey burger. Turkey burgers also are on the menu at The Cheesecake Factory, O’Charley’s and others.
As is often the case, indie burger joints are ahead of the national chains in turkey-burger menu innovation. Here are 10 turkey burgers worth gobbling:
Ξ The Caribbean Turkey is topped with sautéed julienned zucchini, bell pepper, carrots and house-made Caribbean jerk sauce at Barney’s Gourmet Hamburgers in San Francisco, where the menu includes no fewer than 10 turkey burgers.
Ξ The Learning to Fly at Thunder Burger & Bar in Washington, D.C., is topped with Swiss cheese, avocado, Granny Smith apples and rémoulade sauce.
Ξ The Turkey BLT Burger is topped with peppered bacon, romaine, tomato, mayo and dried-cranberry chutney at Chicago’s Burger Bar.
Ξ The Afghan (Attack This & You’ll Never Leave) at Mr. Bartley’s in Cambridge, Mass. It’s topped with blue-cheese dressing, hot sauce and fries.
Ξ The Heritage Turkey at Flip Burger Boutique, Atlanta, has Monterrey Jack cheese, avocado, pomegranate ketchup and alfalfa sprouts.
Ξ The Hot-to-Trot Turkey Burger at Grill-A-Burger in Palm Desert, Calif., includes fire-roasted whole chiles, avocado, pepper-Jack cheese and chipotle mayo on a toasted jalapeño-cheese bun.
Ξ The Pastoral View BRGR is one of three turkey burgers menued by BRGR in New York City. Atop the turkey patty are Swiss, avocado, herb mayo, lettuce, tomato and pickles.
Ξ The Turkey Burger at AJ Bombers in Milwaukee has an uninspired name but interesting toppings: seasoned mayo and sweet-potato strings on herbed cranberry focaccia.
Ξ The Free Range Turkey Burger at Spike Mendelsohn’s Good Stuff Eatery in Washington, D.C., boasts chunky avocado, Muenster cheese, tomato and lettuce on a Pennsylvania Dutch whole-wheat bun.
Ξ The Turkey Burger at Stand in New York City goes uptown with onion marmalade and pickled shallot sauce as toppings.