September 2011/Prepared Foods’ “On the National Menu” -- Bold and spicy? Mild and healthy? How Americans like their burgers often comes down to the simple matter of whether they are male or female.

Technomic asked consumers about their attitudes toward and consumption of burgers for the “2011 Burger Consumer Trend Report.” The survey found that men and women think very differently about burgers, revealing two major ways in which consumers’ burger preferences vary between the sexes. 

First, there is a clear gender divide between how consumers like their burgers cooked. A higher percentage of men than women favor cooking techniques that impart smoky flavors. Preferred methods include flame-broiling (30 vs. 24% of women) and charbroiling (22 vs. 16% of women). Leading burger chains can attest to that. From the beginning, Burger King’s claim to fame has been its signature Whopper prepared with flame-broiled beef. And, sister chains Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. have long specialized in hearty charbroiled burgers. All three of these chains count young adult men among their core customer base.

 Meanwhile, women express a clear preference for cooking methods that impart more mild flavors, such as grilling, broiling or frying. They especially prefer grilled burgers (39%, compared to 32% of men), likely because grilling is strongly tied to health. Technomic has consistently found that women are--generally speaking--healthier eaters than men, and their dining-out purchases reflect that. Nonetheless, men and women do agree on one thing; the majority like their burgers grilled. More than a third of respondents (36% overall) prefer their burgers to be grilled, making it the most popular preparation method with both sexes.

The other major gender difference has to do with condiments and toppings. The accompanying chart, “Topping It Off (by Gender),” shows the majority of consumers prefer traditional burger toppings, such as lettuce, onions and pickles. However, beyond these standards, men and women vary in their preference for less conventional toppings. More men than women like bold condiments, such as barbecue sauce and steak sauce, as well as strong and spicy ingredients, such as jalapeños and chili. More women prefer milder sauces, such as mayonnaise and ketchup, and toppings like avocado and bell peppers, both of which are seen as lighter, better-for-you burger toppings.

The data has implications for any brand or business with ties to the burger category: to satisfy as many customers as possible, burger options need to include the traditional as well as the unconventional. Condiments should range from mild to bold. But, savvy developers will also take these lessons beyond burgers, to test preparation methods, flavor profiles and heat levels on their own product lines to appeal to their target audience. pf