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It's not easy to develop a precooked hamburger that's acceptable to consumers, explains NDSU Meat Science Professor Robert Maddock. It requires quality control, extreme supply chain management and ingredient control.
With the technology in hand to offer a tasty product and the market ripe for convenient meal solutions, the concept of precooked burgers is clearly gaining ground. But the product itself is still sluggish to make the goal at retail.
Sales are very slow, says Bill O'Neill. He's vice president of business development for Advance Brands, which has manufactured precooked burgers in its Fast Fixin' product line for about six years. Available in retail supermarkets nationwide, Fast Fixin' Fully Cooked Beef Burgers, Jumbo Beef Burgers, Bacon Cheeseburgers and Mushroom Swiss Burgers are frozen patties that go for about $7.99/box and can be ready from the microwave in 2-3 minutes.
Though most retailers are struggling to sell precooked burgers, Advance Brands is by no means giving up on them.
“We're probably as bullish on them as we've ever been — only because it seems so right. What's happening convenience-wise would lead you to believe that the time is right for fully cooked burgers,” O'Neill says. “If we can make it catch, I think it's a huge item for beef producers.”
Right now, chicken clearly dominates the majority of the fully cooked, case-ready category in retail freezers. Fully cooked chicken strips and tenders have been a major growth vehicle for retailers, he says.
Retailers looking at growing their fully cooked category over the next five years ought to include the fully cooked burger in their business plans, O'Neill advises, because of the growing demand for convenience. Now is the time for retailers to fully commit to merchandising precooked burgers.
For starters, retailers need to put the product alongside other fully cooked items in the freezer and help customers clearly distinguish between raw and cooked patties. This is a different meal solution, and the consumer who buys a raw patty is probably not the same type of consumer buying the fully cooked burger.
Having a national or private label brand that people trust is key to retail success, O'Neill says, adding that supermarket employees need to be ambassadors of the product, attesting to its quality and taste and personally encouraging customers to try it.
In this age of time-starved consumers, Irion says, the opportunity for precooked hamburgers is nothing but upward.
“Beef is America's favorite protein, and the hamburger is their favorite protein sandwich,” he says. “There's an opportunity for that item to be purchased and prepared in the home in many different ways.”