During its 40 years at the forefront of Sweden’s fast food industry, Max Hamburgerrestauranger AB has grown steadily but the next few years look set to see major expansion
Max Hamburger is a chain of family-owned fast food restaurants in Sweden. It began in 1968 with just one outlet in the north of Sweden but today has 75 restaurants throughout the country. Despite competition from international fast food brands Max remains the country’s second biggest chain in terms of turnover, and has consistently been number one in customer satisfaction awards. The company does not rest on its laurels, however, and looks forward to further expansion both at home and abroad.
The successes of Max rely on the quality of its products, something the company takes pride in. During 2009 it was rated by SIFO as having the most satisfied fast food customers in the country for the eighth year running, beating international competitors such as McDonald’s and Burger King. Richard Bergfors, managing director of Max and son of its founder Curt Bergfors, attributes the company’s famed quality to the relationship it has with its suppliers: “We’ve been using the same suppliers of meat for 20 years or more. We have very long term relationships with them and we work very closely together to get the best and the right quality.”
He adds: “We always look for the best quality ingredients but whenever we can we try to source as locally as possible. So for example we only use Swedish beef, chicken, bacon and so on. We are trying to buy as locally as we can but it’s not possible for all ingredients; our french fries are from Holland for example.” Nonetheless, this commitment to sourcing locally makes Max the only national fast food chain able to guarantee only Swedish beef and chicken on its menu.
Local sourcing is just one part of Max’s wide-ranging environmental policies, the most customer-focused of which is the labelling of all its products with carbon emissions information. Richard explains: “We are the only hamburger chain in the world that has labelled all of the products on our menu board with its carbon footprint. As clearly as you can see the price of the product you can see its carbon footprint, from farmer through the manufacturing process and transport to our own impact like heating and electricity. It is on everything we sell.” The goal of putting this information on its menu is to make it easier for customers to select low-carbon options. By sourcing a lot of ingredients, including a majority of its vegetables, locally Max is able to minimise the overall impact of its operations on the environment.
The company goes further to minimise its impact by planting trees in Africa. This project, which aims to neutralise Max’s carbon footprint, sees the company fund the planting of 89,000 trees per year to offset the 27,000 tonnes of carbon the company is estimated to emit each year. Its environmental commitment doesn’t end there, however, as Richard highlights: “We have hundreds of measures to reduce our climate and environmental impact. For example, we only use environmentally friendly cars, recycle everything from oil to paper and we only use wind energy to power our buildings.”
He goes on to describe the environmental measures applied to the building of new Max restaurants: “Our new buildings have a very high standard of green building. For example there will be solar panels on the roof that generates the electricity to run our grills. We will have chargers for electric cars in the car park, and all of the materials used in the building are of the best possible sort.” The company has won several environmental awards, including Green Capitalist 2008 for Richard, and this looks set to continue with its policies regarding the 40 to 50 new restaurants the company expects to construct over the next five years.
The environment is not the only issue that it is being conscious about: healthy eating has become a core part of Max’s menu. With an extensive and ongoing plan to make its products healthier, the company now leads the fast food market with its range of healthy eating items. Beginning in 2003 the company has gradually introduced new techniques to create healthier menu items including a year-by-year reduction of fat across the menu, the elimination of trans-fats and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and making rye bread available as an alternative to white bread for its burgers. The company’s efforts have seen it rewarded with the keyhole mark, a Nordic scheme to make it easier for consumers to select healthy foods.
It can be difficult for a fast food chain to make these changes, as Richard points out: “The hardest part has probably been the media drawing conclusions. Whenever they are talking about fast food they show a picture of a burger but that sort of stereotype is not true.” Despite these challenging reactions, Richard explains that Max has stood by its beliefs: “We are trying to show that fast food doesn’t have to be bad for you, bad for the environment or bad for the employees. We are trying to show that you can sell burgers as fast food whilst still being a role model and a company that does good.”
The future for Max holds exciting prospects. Currently the company only has branches in Sweden but it has begun considering plans to expand internationally. To do this it is likely Max will use a franchise structure abroad and begin its expansion in neighbouring Norway. As Richard explains, however, it is hoping to go further afield: “Our goal is to be in several countries, though which country will come after Norway hasn’t been decided. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a neighbouring countries, it could be Denmark or Germany. We are looking all over Europe and it depends on where we find good partners.”
The company expects its brand to become stronger in the coming years and, because of the policies it is integrating today, to remain market leaders far into the future. Richard speaks confidently of the company’s present and future: “We will move even further along this road that we’ve already chosen regarding quality, environment and health. I am very sure about that. We will run even faster.”