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A Hamburger Chain That Asks Its Customers To Not Order Hamburgers

When a sustainability consulting firm told Swedish burger chain Max Burgers that its main problem was selling beef, the company actually started trying to sell less of its main product.


Okay, you're a burger chain. Hearing all this talk about sustainability, obesity, and the locavore movement, you hire a consulting firm to help you deal with the pressure to change. What do you do when the consulting firm comes back to you and says: "Your problem is you make hamburgers"?

For many chains, the answer might be to fire the consultant. But as Harvard Business Review blogger Andrew Winston reports, the Swedish franchise Max Burgers took the news (delivered by sustainability gurus at The Natural Step) to heart, and began to minimize its reliance on the core product. The company adopted a lot of standard-issue sustainability measures—deploying solar panels, planting trees in Africa to offset its carbon footprint—but in addition, Winston reports, the company took the astonishing step of trying "to influence its customers to buy less meat." Not only its competitors' meat, but Max Burgers's own meat, as well.

The chain did this by adding lots of non-beef items, like chicken, fish, and veggie sandwiches, to the menu. They also, writes Winston writes, "prominently display climate footprint data in store (there's transparency for you), and suggesting customers buy [non-beef] sandwiches periodically (a là Meatless Mondays)." In essence, the chain doesn't merely tack on healthy and sustainable items to its core menu, but instead re-envisions the entire customer experience in the context of healthy, sustainable eating.

With new data on fast-food labeling, we've already seen that honesty and openness in dietary information can bring about healthier choices for diners. If Winston is right, Max Burgers shows how by taking the next step—making healthy, informed dining normative, enjoyable, and evocative—franchises can not only survive, but flourish.

[Image: Wikipedia]

Follow Matthew Battles on Twitter.

Read More: A McDonald's Dietitian On The Healthier Happy Meal

Add New Comment


  • Wize Adz

    Moving away from their core product would make a lot of fast-food chains more appealing to me!

    But, then again, as a quality-food kinda guy without any special fondness for hamburgers, I get the feeling that I'm just not the kind of customer that fast food chains are looking for.  Seriously, though, the salads and fruit that they serve at the fst-food places I've been to within recent memory are oversugared jokes.  You make a salad pr fruit dish good by using yummy fresh ingredients, not with sweeteners or dressings -- but the tomatoes they use are cardboard and lettuce that they use is so bland that they have to do that in order for anyone (including me) to able to eat it at all.  I guess the chain business model doesn't let their managers go to the grocery store or the farmer's market to get delicious ingredients for the salad that goes in to those little plastic containers.  Bummer, because I'd love the convenience of being able go to a fast-food chain when I'm in a hurry or traveling!

  • soothsayer

    just think of it as kentucky fried chicken becoming "KFC"  in an attempt to lose it's association with chicken.. same idea here.   max burgers is trying to diversify.  it's next move would probably change it's name to either MAX, or MB or something.

  • ltle zeller

    so,how are sales numbers now that they are discouraging people from buying their product?  you've got to be pretty stupid: as a business, to do something like this.  good LEAN beef is as good for you as good chicken, or turkey, or pork.

  • Mountain Evan Chang

    Rather than vilifying hamburgers as a whole, how about sourcing beef from cattle raised sustainably and ethically on open pasture?

  • nate young

    While "sustainable beef" has a host of benefits over commodity beef in terms of preserving the health of the local ecosystem, both products are pretty similar in their carbon footprint, with any difference coming in the treatment of soil sequestration in the rangelands (some frameworks - PAS2050 for instance - don't allow for sequestration to mitigate carbon production.) It's a better choice, but still, relative to a vegetarian meal, 1-2 orders of magnitude worse in terms of global warming gases.

  • Ken Schefter

    I think you may be leaving out a few items when referring to the difference in carbon foorprint between raising cattle sustainably and conventionally, if that's even a relevant term when the entire system should be considered. The impacts of the following should not be taken lightly: the fossil fuels used in making the fertilizer to raise the grains, to run all the machinery involved in industrial agriculture, and to transport the grains; the loss of biodiversity from the growing of GMO crops to feed the cattle (this may not be applicable to the many European nations); the increase in bacterial resistance to antibiotics because of continued use of low-level dosages in cattle in an attempt to prevent and treat cattle illness from digesting foods they weren't meant to digest; human illnesses caused by ingesting contaminated meat from conventonally raised beef; human illnesses from crops contaminated with cow manure carrying the pathogens due to the previously statements; ecosystem pollution and destruction from deforestation and pesticide run-off  to raise the crops to feed the cattle; aquifer/surface water depletion from irrigating the crops., etc. I'd say 1-2 orders of magnitude worse in global warming gases is a bit light, and not even close to an accurate measure of environmental degradation from industrial agriculture and raising cattle using conventional methods. We cannot afford to take the narrow views any more; worldviews must be altered if we want to enjoy preserve any sense of the current lifstyle, which truly is not sustainable to begin with. 

  • Bette Boomer

    This is taking revolutionary to evolutionary thinking - innovative franchising for success and healthy eating.Just what we baby boomers are noted for!

  • Wize Adz

    Huh, then why didn't you boomers start on this project back before I was born?!?  Or even slow down the decline in the quality of the food?

    (My parents are from the baby-boom generation.)