- Next Level Burger, a budding chain that serves 100% plant-based burgers, opened its latest location inside a Seattle Whole Foods store last week, according to a press release. The co-location follows a successful test of a Next Level Burger bar at a 365 location in Lake Oswego, Oregon.
- Started by husband-and-wife team Cierra and Matt de Gruyter in 2014 in Bend, Oregon, Next Level Burger now has four locations and specializes in serving up indulgent favorites made with alternative ingredients. This includes a Bleu BBQ burger and a Sausage Bacon burger, hot dogs, sandwiches, fries and tots. The chain also makes dairy-free milkshakes and uses gluten-free buns.
- "We love creating the opportunity to build on our partnership with Next Level Burger, after a successful debut at Whole Foods 365 in Lake Oswego," Angela Lorenzen, Whole Foods Market Regional President of the Pacific Northwest, said in the release. "NLB's focus on organic produce, non-GMO ingredients and overall clean eating is a natural fit for us, and we look forward to working with Matthew and Cierra as they guide Next Level Burger to its next stage of growth."
The rise of Next Level Burger tracks with the successful introduction of plant-based burgers from Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods in grocery stores and restaurants across the country. It's all part of a booming alternative burger trend, and Whole Foods is positioned right on the front lines.
Started by ex-Marine Matt de Gruyter and his wife, Cierra, Next Level Burger has quickly developed a following in its home state of Oregon. The burger bar’s popularity caught the eye of Whole Foods, which agreed to test the concept inside its smaller, millennial-focused 365 store in Lake Oswego. The pilot went well, and now Whole Foods is examining Next Level’s appeal in an area just outside the restaurant’s core market.
Next Level’s draw seems to lie in its plant-based take on indulgent favorites. Food technology and culinary wizardry has come a long way in recent years, and now outlets like Next Level are able to substitute tempeh for bacon, and fashion burger patties out of beans, quinoa, mushrooms and other ingredients that altogether taste better than the bland Gardenburgers of decades past. The burgers aren’t as advanced as those engineered by Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods — though Next Level does serve up the Beyond Burger at its Seattle location — but it’s still combining vegetarian ingredients in flavorful ways.
Research shows that plant-based burgers are having their moment as consumers simultaneously reduce their meat consumption and seek out unique flavors. A 2015 report by NPD Group, Midan Marketing and Meatingplace found that 70% of consumers who eat meat are substituting a non-meat protein in their meal at least once a week. Research also shows that demand for protein-rich foods, which has been growing for several years now, is increasingly driven by plant-based alternatives.
For grocers, the opportunity to capitalize is clear, as Safeway and Kroger have recently added Beyond Burgers to their meat sections. Concepts like Next Level Burger, meanwhile, represent an opportunity to reach customers with restaurants, bars and other foodservice concepts. Whole Foods has been at the forefront of this trend with its wine bars and Brazilian-themed restaurants, and with Next Level Burger it stays at the cutting edge. It will be interesting to see how the grocer’s bar and restaurant footprint evolves under Amazon’s ownership.