Originally created 08/27/96

Frozen Burgers Make a Big Splash Across the South



WAYCROSS, Ga. - The Bubba Burger is available in more than 1,000 stores after fewer than eight months on the market, and a company official says the secret to its success is the beef used to make the frozen hamburger.

"It's the best meat you can buy," said Edward Eaves, who runs family-owned Eaves Foods Inc. with his twin brother, Robert. "Because we use whole muscle, it doesn't shrink."

The Bubba is also bigger than the average burger, he said Monday.

Since Eaves Foods test-marketed Bubbas in one Waycross supermarket eight months ago, monthly production at the plant has jumped from 20,000 pounds of regular burgers to 600,000 pounds in July, Edward Eaves said.

Stores that stock the Bubbas - both regular and light varieties - claim the frozen burgers are keeping pace with or outselling long-established frozen patties.

In Augusta, calls to several grocery stores turned up the burgers at Publix stores in North Augusta, Washington Road in Augusta, Martinez and Aiken. At the Aiken store, an employee who answered the phone in the meat department said the burgers cost almost $5 for 2 pounds - almost $6 for the low-fat kind.

Erk Russell, who built Georgia Southern's football team into a national power, has endorsed the Bubba. Edward Eaves played on two of Mr. Russell's three national championship teams.

Edward Eaves said the company uses a forming process developed by his father, Walter "Bubba" Eaves, to retain the meat's flavor, even in the low-fat version.

"There's not going to be a lot of fat in there," he said. "If we can retain the juice we have, that's enough to keep it juicy. The problem people have with light products, they don't retain the juice they have."

The product contains no additives, he said. It's widely available in Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama and north Florida.

You can also get a Bubba in Texas, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana and south Florida.

Tom Taylor, assistant meat manager of a Publix in Atlanta, said he's had Bubbas in his freezer case for a few weeks now.

"They're selling pretty good," he said. "People seem to like them. We haven't done any advertising, either."

Bubba Eaves has been in the meatpacking business for 35 years. He sold his plant in Elberton, near the South Carolina border, in 1989. When his sons expressed interest in the business, he said he discouraged them from building a plant there.

"I'd done well there and I knew they'd be working in my shadow," he said. "I wanted them to get a fresh start and get credit where credit was due."

The Waycross plant gave the elder Eaves a chance to develop the Bubba Burger.

"For 35 years I made burger patties, up to a million-and-a-half pounds a week, and I always wanted to make a burger patty that I'd want to eat," he said. "I always believed you could make a frozen one that would taste as good as fresh."

Publix has authorized Bubbas for about 45 of its metro Atlanta stores. Winn Dixie, Kroger and Piggly Wiggly stores in the area have begun carrying the product.

The Bubba would be selling even better if people understood why it's priced higher than other hamburgers, Edward Eaves said.

He believes only a small number of shoppers are aware of the product so far, but he's satisfied with the progress it's made.

"We wanted to come with something different and find a niche," he said. "Nobody thought you could find a niche in the hamburger business."

Staff Writer John Mills contributed to this article.