No fryer, no smell of grease… “Unexpected secret measures” of rivals challenging the “giant empire” McDonald’s. | FRIDAY DIGITAL

No fryer, no smell of grease… “Unexpected secret measures” of rivals challenging the “giant empire” McDonald’s.

The hamburger chain industry is undergoing an upheaval due to soaring raw material prices! Mos Burger" is competing with healthy and high quality, "Lotteria" is trying to revive itself under the umbrella of a giant group, "Burger King" is making a comeback with its meaty burgers, "Freshness Burger" is shifting to a high-class line, and more!

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It seems that it is no longer unusual for a hamburger store to charge over 1,000 yen for a single meal.

A three-minute walk from Hiroo Station on the Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line, a stylish café-like building came into view. The sign reads “mosh Grab’n Go. In fact, this is a cheeseburger specialty restaurant under the direct management of Mos Burger, which opened on November 29, 2010 (Good Meat Day). When one enters the restaurant, one is struck by the many decorative plants placed throughout the restaurant.

When the reporter peeked into the open kitchen to see how the food is prepared, he found that there was no fryer, which is always present in other chains, and there was no smell of oil.

Ordering is done via a touch panel system that does not accept cash, and there are only four items on the menu, including a “two cheese burger” (600 yen for a single item), a “fluffy cheese burger” (800 yen), and a “quattro cheese burger” (900 yen).

The slightly sweet buns made with honey, the hearty patties marinated in a special seasoning, and the special cheese are well matched, making the burgers as tasty as those at famous restaurants. For a refreshing drink, order the “Green Smoothie” (550 yen), which contains 10 kinds of fruits and vegetables.

Food journalist Junnosuke Nagahama began his talk while dipping his oven-baked fries (250 yen), which are not deep-fried, in a generous amount of ketchup.

Over the past few years, the cost of meat, flour, oil, labor, and utilities, which are the key ingredients in making hamburgers, have all gone up. However, a hamburger should be a casual meal that can be eaten with one hand, and simply raising the price would drive consumers away. Therefore, Mos Burger started stores that compete on the basis of cozy café style and quality. The price per customer is a rather aggressive 1,000 to 1,500 yen, but it has been well received.

Mos Burger, which emphasizes a handmade feel, posted a loss of more than 300 million yen in 2010, fueled by soaring labor costs. The company expects to return to the black in fiscal 2011, but the situation remains unpredictable. The development of high-priced stores is the secret to recovering sales.

The reason the company was able to quickly move upscale is because it fits the image consumers have of Mos Burger.

The concept of Mos Burger is that it is fast food, but you can eat vegetables. Many of the menu items are of high quality, such as “Mosu no Natsumi” (460 yen), in which the ingredients are wrapped in vegetables instead of buns, and “Kodawari Salad” (300 yen). They are favored by consumers who choose high-quality, healthy products even if they are pricey,” says Nagahama.

Freshness Burger, whose concept is “a burger café where adults can relax,” is also steering a course toward a strategy of high prices and high quality.

Freshness is the only major hamburger chain that serves alcohol, and it targets adults by offering a happy hour after 4:00 p.m., when draft beer, which normally costs 420 yen, is priced at 290 yen. Another feature is that all burgers can be changed to low-sugar buns for an additional 80 yen. We have succeeded in dispelling the unhealthy image of hamburgers and raising the price per customer,” said Yagyu Kyubei, a B-grade gourmet food explorer.

The commercial battle for new products released seasonally by each company is another highlight of the fierce hamburger chain wars.

The “value-added battle” among companies

While Mos and Freshness are vowing to take a leap forward with their cozy and health-conscious product offerings, Burger King is capturing the hearts and minds of certain consumers by adding the exact opposite value.

The biggest feature is the volume of the burger, represented by the ‘Whopper’ (590 yen). It has gained support from the segment of consumers who want to eat a full meal even if it costs a little more. The meaty patty grilled over an open flame, which is not found in other chains, is very attractive. Last November, they introduced the “Garlic Garlic Burger” (1,040 yen), a double large size burger that contains more than 1,000 calories. ‘ (Mr. Yagyu).

Burger King first entered the Japanese market in 1993, but withdrew in 2001 due to poor performance. In 2007, Burger King reopened in Japan, and has since grown to more than 200 stores, making up for the disappointment of the previous year. The company’s determination to go against the recent trends of “healthiness” and “expansion of side menus” led to its differentiation from other restaurants.

Amidst the continuing rush to raise prices, Lotteria, founded in 1972, has fallen on hard times.

In the early days of the hamburger business, confectionery and dairy manufacturers opened hamburger stores, such as Meiji Dairies’ “Sante Ole,” Morinaga Seika’s “Morinaga Love,” and Ezaki Glico’s “Glicoa,” but the only large chain that has survived is Lotteria, which was operated by Lotte Co. In 1977, the company launched “Ebi Burger” (shrimp burger). In 1977, the ‘shrimp burger’ (420 yen) became an explosive hit and established its position,” said Nagahama.

However, the number of Lotteria stores, which exceeded 500 at its peak as a budget burger chain, has now declined to about 300. In fiscal 2008, the company suffered a loss of 400 million yen. The reason for this is said to be the inability to develop hit products other than the “Shrimp Burger” and “Zesshin Cheeseburger,” as well as a decline in customer loyalty due to price hikes.

In 2011, Lotteria was sold to Zensho Holdings, which operates “Sukiya” and other restaurants. Last year, Zensho announced a plan to increase the number of the group’s overseas restaurants from the current 6,000 to 10,000. This acquisition is believed to be part of Zensho’s overseas strategy. Lotteria may find its way overseas.’ It will be interesting to see how Zensho moves in the 24th year,” said securities analyst Shigeki Unozawa.

Meanwhile, McDonald’s, the “superpower” of the hamburger industry with approximately 3,000 stores nationwide, is beginning to show signs of a breakdown. Food analyst Takao Shigemori speaks of the situation.

Every month since February 2011, the number of customers has decreased compared to the previous year. The reason is price hikes. Last January, they raised the prices of about 80% of their items by up to 150 yen. McDonald’s Big Mac set is now 750 yen. Until now, its competitors have been low-priced restaurants such as gyudon (beef bowl), but now its competitors are chains that charge a little more, such as ramen and curry. Competition in the hamburger world will be fierce because McDonald’s, which has sold at low prices, will lose its value for money.”

McDonald’s, which has been the “one powerhouse” for a long time, is not sitting on its hands.

McDonald’s, which has long been a dominant player in the hamburger market, is not resting on its laurels. “We have introduced the ‘Night Mac,’ which doubles the patty for 100 to 200 yen, and we are moving quickly to capture the demand for high-cost dinners. In addition, to keep consumers from getting bored, the company has maintained its product development capabilities by releasing new seasonal products every year, such as “Gracoro” and other standard seasonal products. Sales are also continuing to be strong,” said Nagahama.

Will the company shift to a more upscale line, maintain its low-priced line, or bet on the development of hit products? In 2012, the hamburger chain industry is about to begin its descent into the McDonald’s empire.

Inside a Mos Premium restaurant, the highest-end brand operated by Mos Burger.
The average price per customer is nearly 2,000 yen, but the authentic taste is well received.
In order to reduce labor costs, more and more stores have introduced mobile ordering and touch panels for ordering.

From the January 19, 2024 issue of FRIDAY

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