What’s better than a big, juicy, mouth-watering burger? That’s easy. A 100% organic, grass-fed, free-range, environmentally-friendly burger. Oh, yes. Now we’re talking.
But, what if that burger was also halal? Wouldn’t that make it the ultimate burger? No, actually, that would make it an Elevation Burger.
The idea for Elevation Burger, an eco-minded fast-food-style chain, was conceived in 2002. Founder Hans Hess wanted something that he could happily serve his family and friends without an ounce of guilt.
“I had been married and my wife and [I]… really wanted to serve our kids something a lot more healthy, a lot more humane, a lot better for the planet. We realized that families couldn’t find that. You weren’t going to find that in the big fast-food [chains],” Hans explains.
Realizing there was an opportunity to create something truly meaningful –and seriously needed in the fast-food world – Hans and his wife April devoted three years of extensive research before opening up the first Elevation burger in Arlington, Virginia, in 2005.
The vision always went beyond creating great burgers. “We also wanted an impact in the world and the way things work,” Hans says, “and create demand for that kind of product and the supply would ultimately follow.”
And boy, was there a demand for Elevation Burger’s organic, sustainable, delicious foods. Such a powerful demand in fact, that the business began franchising in 2008.
“Right now we have 55 [locations], in the U.S., the Middle East, and Mexico, with more coming. There are 34 in the U.S., 20 in the Middle East and 1 in Mexico,” states Jay Wisse, VP of Marketing at Elevation Burger.
The business’ success can be especially credited to the fact that they serve two rapidly growing markets: the organic food market and the halal food market.
According to the USDA, the demand for organic food has been on the rise since 2002 and is becoming increasingly mainstream.
Sales of organic foods in the U.S. were an estimated $28.4 billion in 2012, making over 4% of total at-home food sales. Globally, it was worth $63.8 billion. The U.S. organic food market is expected to grow by 14% by 2018.
The global halal food market, on the other hand, was a staggering $1,292 billion in 2013 according to DinarStandard, a growth strategy research and advisory firm. That number is predicted to grow to $2,537 billion by 2018, making up 21.2% of global expenditure.
What makes Elevation Burger so special is that it merges the two markets and embraces a deeper meaning of halal so that it goes beyond slaughtering the animal in the most humane way possible. Instead, it deals with treating the entire life of the animal, the environment it lives in, and ultimately the consumers who consume it, in the most humane and healthiest way possible by going organic halal.
“We went halal very early on. It had to be a year into it, probably in 2006,” Hans shares. “We started looking for organic, grass-fed supply and we found that the best producers of organic grass-fed beef also happen to be halal.
“What we learned is that halal is considered the most humane way of slaughtering. That’s what got us. This is considered to be the best practice, really. So we said let’s build our whole supply chain around it…We started to add more supply [until] it became a requirement because we wanted to make sure the whole system was uniform…We embraced it and our customers embraced it.”
Additionally, going halal is what introduced Elevation Burger to the Middle Eastern market which, needless to say, was excellent for business. “It turned out to be great for us…It worked out really well!” Hans affirms, chuckling. Now, more lucrative growth is on the way.
“We are going to continue to grow in the Muslim world…in Middle East and Asia,” Hans says. “The halal markets in Asia are pretty important to us….And [we will] continue growth in the U.S. I think just sticking by our integrity of choices of organic halal. We think that really makes a difference to the animal and consumer’s body, your health. Those are things that are really core to our brand.”
In the U.S., Elevation Burger is open to expanding in any metropolitan area. “If people [franchisees] come to us, we don’t care really where they live, if they think that their community would benefit from having an Elevation Burger, we’re all ears,” explains Jay.
It is important to note though that not everything on the menu is halal. Select locations serve bacon, a decision made entirely by the franchisee, but that may change soon since Elevation Burger has been looking into halal beef alternatives for over a year.
“We use beef bacon in the Middle East and it’s pretty good, it just doesn’t meet our standards here right now,” Jay says. “We’re close though…I talked to our VP of supply chain yesterday and he found what he thinks is a really good one. So we’re testing it in-house and then get more if it meets our standards we’ll pass it to some of our stores close to our headquarters. And then we’ll roll it out systematically to anybody who wants it…
“I can’t promise but it is our intention to find halal beef bacon and to add that to our menu and in many cases it will completely take the pork bacon out of our stores. It will completely replace it.”
At the end of the day, it all boils down to creating and sharing a great food experience with everyone that satisfies both hunger and conscience.
“We don’t want to exclude anybody, really,” Hans promises. “Nobody deserves to not have a really healthy burger and fries. Everybody deserves it. I don’t want to exclude the Muslim population.”