Champions of responsible food
In a world saturated with burger chains it takes a smart businessman to reach a true point of differentiation. Founder of HERO Burger John Lettieri found just that through high-quality, hormone-free Heritage Angus Beef. “We believed there was a strong market segment that wanted real beef,” he says in an interview with The Canadian Business Journal.
Committed to finding a supply partner that could offer the best quality product available, HERO Burger finally found this and teamed up with the perfect partner. Heritage Angus Beef is an eco-friendly ranching community which operates 14 family ranches in Western Canada. When Letteri met Rancher Christopher Weder at the Angus show in Toronto several years ago, the partnership was born.
The match was a success, and the HERO Burger Franchise has grown substantially in the last several years. There are more than 30 locations in Ontario with more than 10 set to open in the next year, and plans to expand outside the province. The menu is simple—burgers, fries, and a creative selection of gourmet toppings. The beef, however, is the focus of the business model and a crucial part of HERO Burger’s deliciously unique taste. “We are not a commodity product,” states Lettieri with pride.
The importance of real beef
Angus beef definitely has its own unique taste, something distinctly noticeable when eating a HERO burger. The real point of differentiation for Canadian Heritage Angus, however, is that it is raised without antibiotics and with sustainable agricultural practices. Beef is fully traceable and comes from livestock that graze on grass, are free of animal byproducts, and are free of growth hormones. It is also halal-certified and contains no preservatives or additives. In a market increasingly conscious of the traceability of its food, this clearly has made an impact.
The beef that makes up every HERO Burger is 100 per cent Heritage Angus Beef. This beef comes from livestock reared only by this small group of ranchers involved with Heritage Angus Beef. The burgers are deemed “certified” because each and every bit of beef that goes into the burgers comes from those livestock.
Rancher Christopher Weder is one of the famers who raises the cattle. “Seven years ago, 16 ranches got together and collectively developed a branded-beef program that encompasses our standards of production; we formed Heritage Angus,” says Weder. This group of family ranches is guided by its high standards and principles for raising beef, such as using only free-range pastures.
“HERO Burgers want to show their customers that they are sourcing the best beef in the world,” says Weder. “It is not just beef, but has a story behind it and some ethics behind it. That really in a nutshell is what it is about; we call our beef ‘eco-committed.’ There is a lot of talk about sustainability these days but a lot of people don’t really know what it means. In agriculture, sustainability also means that these farmers and these ranchers can also make a viable living from it and the next generation of ranchers can carry on the tradition.
Most Canadians are two or three generations removed from their food and are not aware that beef is a very energy intense product and there is a long investment time period to get it to the point where it is a burger in downtown Toronto,” says Weder. Heritage Angus has the unique ability to trace the roots of its product back to its origins. “My attitude is that food should taste great and should come with a story and ethics behind it.”
Standing behind suppliers
In fact, HERO chose Spirit Ranch because of its progressive and innovative thinking with regard to production of beef. “There is a real element of product to consumer that is quite different and non-existent in a lot of other categories,” says Lettieri. “When you look at what a lot of farmers are doing it is nothing like this. Even outside of Canada this is a world-class approach to beef.”
HERO Burger places a great importance on building long-term relationships with suppliers that it trusts and believes in. The right choice of supplier is important to the business model, which places a high value on the importance of “real food”. Its goal is to continue to build relationships which are mutually beneficial and support its business goals.
“This is really important in terms of the business model. When you look at the category of burgers, it is all subjective and they all have their own great tastes so we wanted to take an approach that was a little more serious like the way people are eating their food,” says Lettieri.
“That element of the business is really important for us because it justifies the whole approach, it means we are 100 per cent Canadian in every sense of the word.”