The rise of the burger to the top of the charts 

An estimated 50 billion burgers are eaten every year in the United States...
The rise of the burger to the top of the charts 

Pictured with Benny The Burger is Kellymarie Gleeson, Trade Marketing Manager, Foods Division at Kepak and Jennifer Kitson, Simon Communities. Picture: Marc O'Sullivan. 

The story goes that an Italian man got off a ship in Queenstown (Cobh) about 140 years ago in the mistaken belief that he had arrived at his destination - the United States of America.

Giuseppe Cervi realised his error too late as the liner pulled anchor and headed towards New York, leaving him stranded in a strange country.

He decided to walk to Dublin, 163 miles away, where he later opened what is regarded as the first chipper in Ireland on what is now Pearse Street.

Legend has it that he accidentally started frying potatoes, which he added to fresh fish, resulting in his premises becoming known as the ‘fish ‘n chips’ shop.’ Burgers would be added later to fast-food offerings worldwide, with a still unresolved riddle as to where the name originated.

One suggestion is that they were originally known as hamburgers – after the German port city of Hamburg.

However, Americans claim they were the first to grasp the potential of placing a beefsteak between two slices of bread and selling it to busy people on the move.

Burger and chips

Burgers and chips are now sold across the globe from mobile kiosks at outdoor events to fast-food restaurants and pubs.

They have also been added to upmarket hotel menus and are a big appeal for stop-off visitors on motorways routes.

An estimated 50 billion burgers are eaten every year in the United States, where they also make up 40% of all sandwiches sold and account for over 70% of beef served in commercial restaurants.

During the showband era in Ireland over half a century ago, chip van owners vied for key positions outside dance halls and at carnivals, festivals, and other gatherings.

Young people, exhausted from moving to the rock ‘n roll music of Brendan Bowyer and the Royal Showband, Joe Mac and the Dixies, Dickie Rock and the Miami, and other bands, lined up to be served.

Burgers oozing with tomato ketchup, mustard or brown sauce, and bags of chips laced with salt and vinegar, and minerals to restore lost energy from the dance floor jiving and twisting were the popular choices.

It was an era when little attention was given to calorie intake, cholesterol levels and child obesity. A plain burger was the favourite choice.

But options were later expanded to include cheese, chicken, fish, mushroom, vegetables, and bacon, with a variety of flavourings.

Ireland

Cheeseburgers are the most popular variant in Ireland, according to recent research carried out by Flipdish, which looked at 30,000 orders from 200 Irish stores.

It topped the findings at 43.6%, followed by the plain burger (24.9% and bacon (19.6% with veggie (10/1%), chicken (1%), mushroom (0.5%) and fish (0.1%) at the other end of the scale.

Today, foodservice chains, McDonald’s, Supermacs and Burger King, have outlets countrywide, employing thousands of people, sourcing quality-assured food from Irish farmers and adapting to changing consumer preferences for healthy eating.

Shopping centres, hotels, pubs, restaurants, petrol station forecourts, home deliveries, take away and drive-through outlets have all added to the demand for burgers of all sizes and ingredients that tickle the taste buds of consumers.

Employment

McDonald’s, which has 95 restaurants in Ireland, run by 22 local franchisees, has always strongly supported locally produced food on the domestic market, but also in Europe with one in five of its burgers being of Irish origin.

Paul Pomroy, the group’s chief executive (UK and Ireland), said the pandemic has had a huge impact on many people’s employment opportunities and threatened the future of high streets up and down the country.

However, it is to hire an additional 800 people in Ireland this year, taking its total workforce here to more than 6,000 employees.

Supermac’s, a family-owned and run chain, which businessman Pat McDonagh founded in Ballinasloe, County Galway, now operates over 120 outlets nationwide. and employs over 4,000 people.

It has embarked on developing motorway plazas including one near the ancestral home of US President Barak Obama in Moneygall, Co Tipperary.

Best burger

The search for Ireland’s best burger will reach a climax this Thursday - National Burger Day - with hundreds of food businesses taking part in a competition, sponsored by food group Kepak, supported by Flipdish, Blenders, Coughlans and Kilmeadan.

Kepak has €1.5bn turnover, 3,500 employees, 12 plants in Ireland and the United Kingdom and sales offices in Europe, the United States and Asia.

It urged customers vote for their favourite burger while supporting local food outlets and operators emerging from the pandemic-related closures.

A meal will be donated to Simon Communities countrywide with every burger purchased today and a photo shared online with the hashtag #nationalburgerday.

John Savage, Kepak’s Foodservice Solutions Commercial Director said: “After a difficult year for those operating in the sector, we are excited to host this nationwide battle of the burgers and put a positive spotlight on Irish food outlets.” 

David Chandler, Sales Director, Blenders, said as outdoor and now indoor dining returns, tables are turning faster than ever before.

“In 30 years, I cannot recall burgers featuring on menus so heavily. The winners this year will really have something to shout about,” he said.

Jennifer Kitson, National Partnerships Manager, Simon Communities, said last year’s event was a huge success with 14,000 meals being donated for homeless people.

Balance and moderation

Meanwhile, the healthy eating debate continues, with Michelle Obama, the former US First Lady, offering her thoughtful views. 

“I love French fries. I like a good burger, and I like pie,” she said.

But she has also stressed that a healthy diet isn’t about deprivation. it’s about balance, moderation, making the right choices, eating fruits and vegetables at meals, and ensuring treats don’t become habits.

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