Think the burger business has hit the saturation point yet? Check out what upscale burger pioneer Fuddruckers has added to its menu: Fudds Exotics—buffalo, elk, wild boar and ostrich burgers made from all-natural, free-range grass- and grain-fed meat that is 100 percent antibiotic and hormone-free. Who says there aren’t any niches left in this ever-growing segment?
You don’t want to go too exotic if you add exotic meats to your burger offerings. Or at least not as exotic as Mesa, AZ, restaurant owner Cameron Selogie did. He’s the guy who put a $21 lion burger on the menu at his Il Vinaio restaurant earlier this summer in celebration of the World Cup in South Africa. The move earned worldwide publicity for Il Vinaio—none of it good. Lions are not an endangered species, but the thought of eating lion flesh gave many people the creeps.
But there are plenty of game meat options that mainstream customers find more palatable. Fuddruckers is currently serving half-pound wild boar burgers, timed to coincide with the opening of wild boar season in Texas. The company says its wild boar burgers “are bred for taste through open grass grazing and pesticide- and herbicide-free mixed grains like nuts, roots and tubers. Served on a wheat bun with 3 g. of fiber, Fuddruckers wild boar burgers are low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and have 0 g. of artificial trans fats.”
The Fudds Exotics program started in May with buffalo burgers, an offering the chain says has turned out be its strongest new menu item in years. Buffalo is the least exotic of the four wild game burgers offered by Fuddruckers and, as proven by the success of buffalo baron Ted Turner’s Ted’s Montana Grill, one that finds ready acceptance in full-service restaurants. We’ll have to keep an eye on how well the other three items do.
But at least the Fudds Exotics effort gives Fuddruckers something distinctive to offer its customers. The chain was among the very first to focus on high-quality hamburgers in a non-fast food setting, and has grown from a single unit in 1980 to 189 stores (59 company owned, 130 franchised) today. Recent struggles caused it to be purchased this summer by Luby’s, a publicly traded company that operates 101 cafeteria-style restaurants, almost all of them in Texas.
Fuddruckers used to have to the high-quality burger segment to itself. But the rise of chains such as Five Guys Burgers and Fries, In-N-Out Burger and Smashburger has given it plenty of stiff competition. So has the emphasis on gourmet burgers by restaurants higher up on the full-service restaurant ladder. But now at least Fuddruckers is offering customers something its competitors do not. It’s a strategy other restaurants that want a bigger share of the booming market for burgers might wish to consider.