In 2003, John Lettieri set out to offer the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) a better choice of burger. Since then, HERO Certified Burgers has been building a strong base of fans supporting the family-owned chain and its dedication to community and sustainable quality burgers made with 100 per cent Canadian beef. Now the chain is ready for even further growth, taking its mission throughout Canada and beyond.
At its heart, HERO Certified Burgers is a proud regional brand representing the GTA—and while regional brand is ready to grow, it’s a mindful and deliberate growth that will ensure the HERO brand stays on target.
“We’re definitely strong as a regional brand in the GTA, and we focus within that,” said Lettieri, HERO Founder and President. “We’re working on growth in territories outside of Toronto, like London and Ottawa, but we want to keep our growth close to home.”
Still the brand is taking steps forward to increase its footprint in a major way through international growth, including significant progress within the United States. “We’ve embarked on a year-long project of registering our trademark worldwide and in the United States, and we are doing our first couple of stores in Buffalo this year,” said Lettieri, noting that those initial Buffalo stores could launch as early as HERO’s Q3-Q4 of this fiscal year.
The brand’s choice to expand in Buffalo—just over an hour outside of Toronto—still fits in with HERO’s commitment to mindful regional growth. “Being within one to two hours, between response and travel time, allows us to service our future territories and developers properly and efficiently,” said Lettieri. “So that’s the key thing: servicing our territories.”
Full Traceability from Day One
Location is a priority, now more than ever. Traceability is a huge factor in the food and beverage world today. As consumers want to know more about where their food comes from and its journey from the farm to their plate, businesses everywhere are striving to improve the quality and traceability of their products. At HERO Certified Burgers, establishing that now isn’t an issue because it’s been a standard all along.
“We’ve had that from day one,” said Lettieri, noting that the chain has an exclusive partnership with Toronto-based Beretta Meats to offer its customers beef from 100 per cent Canadian ranchers. “We’re the first in the burger business in Toronto—if not Canada—with beef raised with no additional hormones or antibiotics and with full traceability. It’s a 100 per cent Canadian product and we know exactly what our cattle are being fed, and how our cattle are treated.”
Improving on Sustainability
While HERO Certified Burgers has been committed to the quality of its beef from the start, the chain is still striving consistently to make improvements in every area wherever it can. Part of this commitment to improvement means taking steps to increase sustainability measures through new packaging and display efforts. Starting in 2010, HERO partnered with GreenDustries Packaging on innovative PleatPak™ wraps for its burgers and the Magic Bag™ for its fries. This highly functional packaging options is made from 100 per cent post-industrial/post-consumer recycled paper and uses 35 to 70 per cent less paper per piece than most traditional packaging options in the fast food industry.
Elsewhere, HERO has implemented digital menu boards across more than 50 per cent of its stores already to both reduce waste and streamline its menu process.
“It’s easy to change, so it’s very green friendly and we’re able to change our menu right from home base,” said Lettieri. “There are also two to three screens on the sides to promote any type of special in-store LTO—any type of communications we want, we can have that on screen. Even though they’re stacked, the screens act as one.”
While these actions have already been implemented, HERO also has further green innovations in the works further down the line. “We’re working on changing our foil paper to a brown paper, getting rid of all that aluminum,” said Lettieri. “We’re working aggressively to be able to offer as many green alternatives as possible.”
A Non-GMO Promise
One major consumer-driven trend that has been picking up steam within the QSR and fast casual industry is an interest in going fully GMO free. HERO Certified Burgers has committed to this idea in full, revamping its entire ingredients list.
“We’ve been working very strongly on removing all GMOs from our food,” said Lettieri. “Our bread will now be totally GMO free, as we’ve taken out and replaced the fat with olive oil in our recipe. Our efforts will be ongoing with non-GMO foods as much as possible.”
According to Lettieri, the motivation behind this campaign is simple: it’s a choice that consumers are increasingly looking for, and HERO wants to be the brand of choice to provide it. “I think in the burger game, there needs to be at least one player in the market that is committed to getting to the basics and the natural aspects of food as much as possible,” he explains. “We believe it’s important that the future generations and future demographics should have the opportunity to have a burger with full traceability in its beef, and as much non-GMO in that burger as possible. It’s important, isn’t it? It’s the future.”
A Call for Variety
In addition to a higher demand for GMO-free options, Lettieri has found that consumers are also crying out simply for more choices in general beyond the standard beef. HERO Certified Burgers answers the call of this rising trend with a menu that is simple yet varied and always experimenting with new ideas.
“The other menu products on our menu are really trending upward—our Alaskan salmon filet, our turkey burger, our veggie burger,” said Lettieri, noting that the brand is also currently testing a smaller double patty “Pro Burger,” topped with a consumer’s choice of either zucchini tempura or sautéed mushrooms and sautéed onions in the middle, in about three preliminary test markets to gauge response. As Lettieri explains, providing these different choices actually helps bring diners together by providing one spot where everyone can find something on the menu to satisfy their cravings and meet their dietary needs.
“We’ve found that people are looking to introduce a vegetarian meal at least once a week into their diet, and we also have pescatarians that are looking for options,” said Lettieri. “Having that available at HERO makes the burger place desirable for all members of the family, and really for all walks of life.”