Will Mark Wahlberg be the next competitor in Australia’s burger wars?

Actor Mark Wahlberg could have his eye on the Australian fast-food market, as the burger business he co-founded with his brothers reveals plans to expand into Asia in 2017.

Wahlburgers was founded in Boston by chef Paul Wahlberg and actor brothers Mark and Donnie and is the subject of a reality TV show that tracks the Wahlberg family’s lives and the growth of the business.

This week the chain announced a joint venture with Cachet Hospitality Group to launch three Wahlburgers outlets in China as the beginning of a significant expansion project into Asia.

And Wahlburgers chief executive told SmartCompany Australia might not be far behind.

“Absolutely, we would consider opening restaurants in Australia in the future.  We think it would be a great market for Wahlburgers,” chief executive Rick Vanzura says.

The immediate plan is to open 100 restaurants in China “and the surrounding region” over the next five years, with Wahlburgers seeing opportunities to grow the business from the bottom of office blocks and in shopping centres and resorts.

Read more: US burger franchise Carl’s Jr. lands Down Under

“Asia Pacific is in a strong position to achieve its goal of opening in a variety of locations, including shopping centers, theme parks, residential and office developments and hotel and resort properties,” the business said in a statement.

However, if Wahlburgers does venture into Australia, it would be facing a competitive boutique fast food retail market that has fast become a world of drone delivery pizzas and boutique competitors fighting it out to win the hearts of a discerning public.

Earlier in the week, US burger giant In-N-Out tested the waters once more with a pop-up outlet in Sydney, with customers lining up for hours in a heat wave to sample the classic American fare. Meanwhile, our own celebrity chef Neil Perry is increasing the reach of his Burger Project chain with new restaurants across the country at the same time as other competitors like Melbourne’s 8-Bit provide competition for the more established Grill’d chain.

Australian’s fast food taste buds have changed significantly over the past five years, according to research from Roy Morgan.

In December, Roy Morgan research highlighted how Generation Y and Generation Z diners are increasingly forgoing traditional burger outlets like McDonald’s and heading to “niche” burger offerings beyond Grill’d.

Between 2015 and 2016, the number of Generation Y survey respondents that had visited Grill’d in an average four week period dropped from 8% to 5.4%, while the number visiting “other hamburger shops” increased from 4.7% to 6.4%.

“The much-reported trend among ‘Millennials’ (a group which spans approximately the first half of Generation Z and the second half of Gen Y) for hipster culinary experiences cannot be ignored,” said Roy Morgan industry communications director Norman Morris in a statement.

Before it hits Australian shores, Wahlburgers has a bigger population of fast food diners to capture in China. The business has seen the opportunity at a time when shopping spaces are transforming in the country, and its joint venture partner Cachet believes there’s plenty of scope to find large groups of potential customers in new spaces.

“This is an excellent time to enter the Asia market, especially China, where [there is] dramatic growth in US-style destination malls with increasing space committed to restaurants as mall owners see both traffic and income rise dramatically,” Cachet Hospitality chief executive Alexander Mirza said on the deal.

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