For all the talk about vegan diets, meatless Mondays and meat grown in laboratories, Americans just keep eating burgers. In fact they’re eating burgers more often than ever, according to a report from market-research firm Technomic, Inc.

TheTechnomic Burger Consumer Trend Report found that 95 percent of consumers say they eat burgers at least once a month. Why? Because they like burgers. Half the consumers in the study cited cravings as one of the top reasons they purchase burgers.

Burgers keep sizzlingAnother key factor driving the burger trend is “fast-casual” sector of the restaurant business, and particularly the “better burger” segment within fast-casual. Popular chains such as Five Guys Burgers and Fries and Smashburger offer high-quality burgers with more customization options at a slightly higher price compared with typical quick-serve restaurants. In response to these trends, several fast-food chains also now offer premium burgers using Angus beef or other differentiating features.

An earlier Technomic report on the top 150 fast casual restaurant chains shows growth in the fast-casual segment continues to outpace that in other restaurant categories. Fast-casual sales increased 13 percent in 2012, and the largest chains—those which each made more than $325 million last year—grew by 16 percent. The report projects an annual growth rate for fast-casual chains at 10 percent for 2012 through 2017, compared with 4.5 percent for all limited-service restaurants.

Burgers have helped fuel that growth, as 51 percent of consumers report eating fast-casual burgers at least once a month during 2012, an increase from 43 percent in 2011. Five Guys Burgers and Fries led the better-burger segment within fast casual with sales of $1.1 billion in 2012.

Other key findings in the burger report include:

  • Quality is key: 51 percent of consumers say it’s highly important that the burgers they order are made from never-frozen beef—an increase from 43 percent two years ago. More than half (55 percent) want menus to specify the type of beef used, up from 48 percent in 2011.
  • Nearly two-thirds of consumers say that build-your-own burger concepts are appealing, and 64 percent also say that the ability to customize burger toppings and condiments is important.
  • Data indicates that interest in special diets, driven by younger consumers, continues to grow, as more than a fifth of all consumers who eat burgers say that gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian burger options are important.

Editor’s note: How anyone can call a vegetarian or vegan option a “burger” is beyond me. Burgers are made with beef. They can have all kinds of vegetables piled on – onions, lettuce, tomatoes, mushrooms, avocados, you name it – but at the center is a patty of ground beef. And maybe a little bacon. Anything else is just a sandwich.