“When the U.S. military calls, you've got to pick up the phone,” said Charlie Guzzetta, chief brand development officer for BurgerFi.
The Air Force was looking to bring in new chains that appeal to diners’ preferences for healthier, more transparent ingredients.
“We’re not going to convince airmen that they shouldn’t eat burgers. But if we’re going to offer a burger, then it needs to be a clean burger, with wholesome products,” said Mike Baker, chief of strategy and innovation at the Air Force Services Center.
BurgerFi, a North Palm Beach, Fla.-based better-for-you burger chain fit the bill. The brand serves American Black Angus beef never exposed to steroids, antibiotics, growth hormones, chemicals or additives. And opening locations on Air Force bases fit into BurgerFi’s non-traditional growth strategy. The chain also has various airport and international locations opened or in the works.
As Baker sees it, BurgerFi fits into the overall trends he’s seeing in the industry and what military families are looking for.
“There has been a widening gap between the products and services that are traditionally offered on an Air Force installation and the expectations and preferences of the airmen and their families, and so what they’re doing is they are voting by going off the installation. They are voting by not participating in our programs at the same level, as they had in previous generations,” he said.
The fact that BurgerFi is a smaller chain with about 125 units was a benefit as they discussed opening Air Force locations, said Guzzetta. Opening on bases means adapting to different size and serving-style models.
“Being such a young brand, we are super flexible, super agile. We’re able to make quick decisions and try different things,” said Guzzetta.
BurgerFi will be opening traditional units, with their signature industrial look and recycled furniture, as well as food-court style spaces. The first location will open in the late spring or early summer of next year, most likely on an Arizona Air Force base. Locations on bases in Alaska and Montana are planned as well. BurgerFi is also in discussions to open food trucks at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.
As a small company, BurgerFi can also offer hands-on support services to the Air Force, said Guzzetta. But the process of opening these units was a bit different than a traditional location. There are heightened security measures, and approvals needed to get vendors in the gates and the buildings may have additional protection requirements. In other ways, the process is easier than opening in other locations, said Guzzetta. Permitting is one such example. Rather than months of lengthy legal work with city municipalities, the Air Force does all of that themselves. Of course, said Guzzetta, it's the U.S. government, so there's still plenty of red tape.
But it’s all worth it to be able to “serve those who serve,” he said.
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