Leading Culinary Predictions & Trends 2016: What’s in the Hunt?

August 4, 2016


By Barbara L. Vergetis Lundin, Assistant Editor

A survey of chefs conducted by the National Restaurant Association predicted 20 trends for 2016. The chefs are obviously on top of their game, as all of the trends have come to fruition in some form or fashion. Which ones are in the hunt?

“True trends evolve over time, especially when it comes to lifestyle-based choices that extend into other areas of our everyday life,” said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of research for the National Restaurant Association, in a statement. “Chefs and restaurateurs are in tune with over-arching consumer trends when it comes to menu planning, but add their own twist of culinary creativity to drive those trends in new directions. No one has a better view into the window of the future of food trends than the culinary professionals who lead our industry.”

Some of the predictions are “fully inundating top restaurant chains,” according to Darren Tristano, president of Technomic, a Winsight Company.

Farthest along are natural ingredients, ethnic condiments/spices, authentic ethnic (think Middle Eastern and African spices like sumac and dukkah), ancient grains, ethnic-inspired breakfast items like coconut milk pancakes, and street foods, as a multitude of top chains are embracing these trends in one way or another, he said.

“In my opinion, the two biggest headliners of this year have been natural ingredients and ethnic condiments/spices,” Tristano said. “They’re showing up in all restaurant segments and cuisine types in so many different ways.”

Natural Ingredients

When it comes to using natural ingredients, Panera is setting a high standard. Not only does Panera stress clean ingredients, but the chain has a “no-no” list of ingredients that they have committed to removing from their food by the end of 2016, including artificial flavors and colors; artificial sweeteners like aspartame; partially hydrogenated oils and artificial trans fat; fat substitutes like sucrose polyester and micro-particulated whey protein concentrate; lard; high fructose corn syrup; sucralose; maltodextrin; added nitrates, nitrites, and sulfites; and added caffeine.

California Pizza Kitchen (CPK) recently announced its intention to use more local, natural ingredients. For example, it will source vegetables like lettuce, kale, and arugula from local and regional farms whenever possible. Not only are the ingredients being used this summer at California Pizza Kitchen natural, they are simple – as evidenced by new seasonal dishes like California fields salad (with fresh field greens and baby kale, strawberries, watermelon, basil, California pistachios, feta, and champagne vinaigrette), strawberry shortcake featuring house-made candied lemon zest, strawberry lime margaritas, and strawberry mango coolers.

“It’s been a long, cold winter for many and we are happy to welcome the warmer weather by offering a taste of the season’s freshest ingredients throughout our menu,” said Brian Sullivan, senior vice president of Culinary Development for California Pizza Kitchen, said in a statement. “Tender, leafy greens are a key component to many of our dishes and we’re also giving fresh strawberries special emphasis this season…We love summer at California Pizza Kitchen when some of our favorite produce, like sweet strawberries and watermelon, are at their freshest and juiciest.”

Even McDonald’s has jumped on the natural ingredient bandwagon with a new line of summer salads that are moving from traditional iceberg lettuce to red leaf lettuce, romaine, baby spinach, and baby kale peppered with vibrantly colored vegetables.

McDonald’s culinary and supply chain teams have even traveled to some of the chain’s lettuce suppliers, learning, right in the field, how the leaves are harvested and how suppliers maintain consistent growing techniques.

Further, McDonald’s has committed to fully transition to cage-free eggs over the next 10 years. Annually, McDonald’s purchases approximately two billion eggs in the U.S. and 120 million eggs in Canada.

Ethnic Condiments and Spices

American consumers are seemingly pretty adventurous when it comes to food. In fact, 80 percent of those consumers surveyed by the National Restaurant Association in 2015 consume at least one ethnic cuisine per month; 17 percent eat seven or more monthly.

Further, two-thirds are trying a wider variety of ethnic cuisine than they were five years ago, according to NRA research. Restaurants were found to be the main way consumers get access to ethnic food.

“Americans generally are more willing to try new food than they were only a decade or so ago – especially in restaurants – underscoring that the typical consumer today is becoming more adventurous and sophisticated when it comes to different cuisines and flavors,” said Annika Stensson, director of Research Communications for the National Restaurant Association, in a statement. “Ethnic cuisines are a long-term trend on restaurant menus, with some being so common that they’re hardly considered ethnic anymore, while others are still relatively unknown. However, our research shows that consumers are exploring a range of international dishes these days.”

The research revealed that, not surprisingly, Italian, Mexican, and Chinese are the most familiar, while consumers are least familiar with Ethiopian, Brazilian/Argentinian and Korean cuisines. However, condiments and spices with these origins are popping up on familiar menus.

Lizzy Freier, menu analysis managing editor with Technomic has been tracking the up and coming trends in spices and has found that berbere (a staple spice mixture in Ethiopian cooking) and other African influences are making their way onto North American menus. In particular, True Food Kitchen serves a Moroccan Chicken with chickpea, olive, spinach, and chermoula (a North African marinade); BLT Steak features a rack of lamb with a spicy North African merguez sausage; Veggie Grill has unveiled a super green salad featuring hummus and harissa (Tunisian hot chili pepper paste); and Modern Market’s eggplant goat sandwich offers a spicy helping of harissa tahini.

Nando’s chicken chain has made peri peri (also called piri piri) famous, if not infamous. The Portuguese seasoning, which is prevalent in South Africa, contains crushed chiles, citrus peel, pepper, salt, onion, lemon juice, basil, oregano, tarragon, lemon juice, pimento, paprika, and bay leaves (although Nando’s recipe is a secret). A chain similar to Nando’s, albeit much smaller, Boneheads Grilled Fish & Piri Piri Chicken also capitalizes on the South Africa influence.

Noodles & Company has incorporated a similar, more exotic version of sriracha into its menu. Called gochujang, it plays heavily in the fast-casual restaurant’s new dish Korean BBQ meatballs with gochujang sauce – making Noodles & Co. the first national restaurant chain to feature gochujang on its menu. Sriracha is also a popular condiment at Noodles & Company, as well as other chains like Subway.

Ghost peppers, the world’s spiciest pepper, are a hot menu item, as evidenced by Wendy’s ghost pepper fries and Quaker Steak & Lube’s dusted ghost pepper flavor which is available for a limited time as a wing sauce.

Brazilian-influenced brands include Texas de Brazil Churrascaria, Fogo de Chao, and Tucanos Brazilian Grill. Plus, these kinds of ethnic influences are also appearing on non-ethnic restaurant menus. For example, Yogurtland offered a limited-time Argentinian Dulce de Leche Cookie frozen yogurt flavor at the end of April.

Argentinian Chimichurri sauce has been popular at national brands, particularly paired with shrimp (Taco John’s, Fuzzy’s Taco Shop, and Red Lobster).

Early Stage Trends and Laggards

On the opposite end of the spectrum, many trends – like hyper-local sourcing, artisan ice cream and butchery, and house-made sausages – are in their early stages, appearing in mostly independent restaurants.

“[These trends] are really tough for large restaurant chains to do on a national level…because it’s expensive and equipment can be tough to source,” Tristano said.

Some of these trends do well in non-commercial as opposed to commercial.

“Hyper-local sourcing and food waste reduction/management are both well-developed at college and university foodservice,” said Tristano. “Applying these to the mainstream could be tougher, though some chains like Sweetgreen and Shake Shack have approached trends like food waste in interesting ways by repurposing food scraps.”

For example, for a limited time, Sweetgreen and Shake Shack featured a burger created by Chef Dan Barber (the wastED juice pulp cheeseburger), which used leftover vegetable pulp, leftover cheese trimming, and bruised beets for ketchup, atop a repurposed bun made from stale rye bread.

While other trends, are making progress, it has been significantly limited. For example, chains like True Food Kitchen and Top 500 chain Sweetgreen feature sustainable sea bass and sustainably farmed trout, respectively, but many other large chains aren’t quite there yet.

While pickling has been a huge trend in recent years, even making it onto menus like Red Robin which recently unveiled a Battered Broccoli with house-made pickled jalapeno aioli, there hasn’t been a significant surge on other top menus.

Flavors of the World

September 3, 2013

Pizza and ethnic cuisines lend themselves to customer-created entrées.

Although most restaurants will change ingredients in an entrée to meet a guest’s request, a growing number of pizza and ethnic eateries are letting diners build their own menu items from scratch.

“It’s a system that delicatessens and street-food vendors worldwide have used for years. For many consumers, the concept of having restaurant staff assemble fresh, high-quality food in front of you to your design has great appeal,” says Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Chicago-based market research firm Technomic Inc.

“The model provides not only interaction and customization, but the ability to view the food—to select food that is visually appealing versus the old-school way, where the food is being prepared behind the steel curtain—is key,” Tristano says.

Constructing menu items this way, he adds, also gives the restaurant a healthy halo, “because diners see that they’re eating something fresh.”

The limited-service industry seems to be an ideal vehicle for various types of create-your-own products. The price point is generally less than $8, and just about any type of cuisine can be adapted to this design.

Just as Subway bases its menu on delis of yesteryear, Chipotle Mexican Grill’s roots are in the early 1990s taquerias of the Mission District in San Francisco, where the chain’s founder, Steve Ells, was working as a line chef at Stars restaurant. Ells, then a recent graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, closely watched crews at taquerias quickly and efficiently make burritos.

“They were made in this giant tortilla, [and] everything was on the inside—the rice, the beans, the meats, the salsas—and wrapped in foil,” he recalls in a video on Chipotle’s website. “I had never seen anything like that before.”

Ells and his vision of the concept went to Colorado, where he grew up. His first Chipotle—the name refers to a smoke-dried jalapeño chile—opened in Denver in 1993. Twenty years later, there are about 1,500 units.

At Chipotle, customers move along a counter, watching the restaurant’s team on the other side cook and create each guest’s entrée to order in an assembly line. There are a few base ingredients, a choice of proteins, and a variety of house-made toppings and sauces.

The mantra: “Make it fresh, keep the menu simple and focused, and give customers flexibility to configure those menu items,” says spokesman Chris Arnold.

Chipotle has made changes over the years, adding burrito bowls and salads to the original tortilla burritos and tacos. In addition to the long-time cilantro-and-lime rice, brown rice has been added as an ingredient, as has a tofu-based protein. The other proteins are grilled chicken and beef and braised carnitas and barbacoa. Toppings include pinto and black beans, a mix of grilled onions and bell peppers, four salsas, shredded cheese, lettuce, sour cream, and, for an extra charge, guacamole.

Another Denver-based enterprise, Qdoba Mexican Grill, has its own take on the taqueria, including a slightly wider menu that counts several types of build-your-own burritos (queso, San Francisco–style, and tortilla-free), tacos, nachos, quesadillas, and taco salads.

Qdoba offers two types of rice, two varieties of beans, five proteins, three sauces, six freshly made salsas (a seventh, mango, is offered in the summer), and a half dozen toppings, making thousands of combinations available.

Founded in 1995, the 600-unit chain has added new ingredients over the years, like whole-wheat tortillas, brown rice, and ancho chile sauce.

“But we’re still slow-cooking [meats] six to seven hours and hand-shredding the beef and pork,” says Ted Stoner, head chef and director of strategic product development for the chain, a division of Jack in the Box.

Allowing guests to customize allows them to choose the flavors they want and control the calories and fat they consume. “We’ve seen more interest in healthier items, especially with the dietary concerns out there,” Stoner says. “But the college guys still want a full-sized wrapped burrito. We are all about giving people variety.”

As with Mexican cuisine, Italian food is a favorite among Americans. That includes pizza, which easily allows customers to have a large choice of ingredients.

These days, however, some pizza innovators have taken customization a step further, offering more high-quality toppings and a variety of crusts, sauces, and cheeses.

PizzaRev, a three-unit, Los Angeles–based chain that launched last year, offers nine menued pizzas, but most diners choose to build their own 11-inch pizzas for $7.99 each.

“We use extraordinary, high-quality ingredients, fresh dough, and cheese ground every day,” says Nicholas Eckerman, chief operating officer. “We call it ‘pizza without compromise.’ We don’t compromise on quality; you don’t compromise on choices.”

After choosing a thin, regular, or gluten-free Roman-style crust, diners can select one or more sauces (olive oil, red, white, or barbecue) and cheeses (Mozzarella, Feta, blue, and Ricotta). They then choose from among 11 proteins and 17 vegetables.

The toppings include nontraditional choices like chorizo, anchovies, capers, and artichoke hearts. Once the pizza is assembled, it goes into a wood-fired oven and cooks at high temperatures for just two minutes.

Choice is also paramount at The Pizza Studio, another L.A. concept that opened its first unit this year. The size, price, and baking method are similar to PizzaRev’s.

There are four crusts (traditional, whole grain, rosemary herb, and gluten-free), four sauces (tomato, pesto, barbecue, and olive oil), four types of cheese (Mozzarella, Feta, Parmesan, and goat), nine meats, and 13 veggies.

“People really love the rosemary herb crust,” says Samit Varma, cofounder and president. “We were surprised to see how well it has done. We expected about 75 percent to be traditional, but the rosemary herb is chosen about 40 percent of the time.” Traditional toppings are popular, he says, as are roasted peppers, corn, and chicken sausage.

Another take on Italian cuisine is offered at Piada, which features build-your-own, tortilla-like flatbread piadas, bowls with freshly cooked angel hair pasta, and chopped salads. These are topped with a grilled ingredient, veggies, and a sauce. “We are a chef-driven company, and our line is filled with a lot of fresh ingredients [and] fresh vegetables. That is conveyed to the diners,” says Jamy Bolling, corporate chef and partner for the three-year-old, 10-unit chain based in Columbus, Ohio.

Among the grilled items are chicken, Italian sausage, salmon, steak, and calamari. There are hot and cold sauces, from the red pomodoro and spicy diavolo to red pepper and fresh basil pestos, along with 18 toppings, such as artichokes and eggplant caponata.

As with other build-your-own-style restaurants, Piada encourages interaction between the crew and customers to help diners understand which ingredients go together.

“We want our team to treat people like they’re guests at home,” Bolling says. “We put together a chef’s menu on cards to try to guide them, but we also want our staff to help walk people through the line, suggesting combinations or talking about their favorites.”

Helping customers choose ingredients is even more important at Mediterranean assembly-line restaurants, where some items are not familiar to some Americans.

When Roti Mediterranean Grill launched in Chicago in 2007, the idea was to “take this type of food and put it in this format that is really resonating with consumers,” says marketing director Peter Nolan.

Like other create-a-meal restaurants, Roti, which has 17 units in three markets, features several entrée options: a sandwich with pita pocket or laffa wrap, a rice plate with three sides, or a salad.

Chicken or steak shawarma (meat on a spit), falafel, or roasted vegetables are added, plus any of five sauces (including tahini and the secret house S’hug spicy sauce), sides like couscous, and toppings such as Feta cheese and olives.

Roti offers set menu items that many first-timers try, Nolan says, in case they don’t know much beyond hummus and pitas. “They can be confused if they aren’t familiar with Mediterranean food, so this is a safe haven. The next time they may experiment.”

This type of cuisine also works well “because the Mediterranean diet is very popular in today’s environment,” says Bob Bafundo, vice president of company and franchise operations at Denver-based Garbanzo Mediterranean Grill.

“There’s a mixture of fresh vegetables, fruits and grains, and salads and sauces,” he says. “Variety is built into the Mediterranean diet, and our menu allows you to choose a little of this or that, giving people a balance of proteins and grains.”

Most customers select the create-your-own entrée options, selecting from among a white or wheat pita, laffa, or a plate with sides. There are seven proteins, including shawarmas, falafel, and hummus. As Garbanzo has grown to 21 units in six states since 2008, it has changed or added some items, including the rollout of kabobs last year and replacement of one sauce that did not appeal broadly with the better-known Greek tzatziki sauce.

Chipotle’s Ells has said the build-your-own model can work with various cuisines, and he has taken that notion to the Asian category with the company’s creation of ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen, which features flavors from China, Thailand, and other nations in that region. But even before ShopHouse launched its first unit in 2011, some other create-your-own restaurants featuring Asian flavors had sprouted up.

Sushi concept How Do You Roll? got its start in Austin, Texas, in 2008 after cofounder Yuen Yung had 30 minutes for lunch and wanted sushi but couldn’t find any place serving it quickly.

The company now has 12 units in four states.

Unlike the typical build-your-own concept, where customers pay at the end of the line, How Do You Roll? starts with the sales station. Customers get a ticket with their order and take it to one of several rolling stations, where a chef creates the sushi roll, bowl, or cone.

“The high sellers are tuna and salmon, then shrimp,” Yung says. “It doesn’t matter where you are, those are universal. Chicken and beef fall right behind those.” The number of guests who opt for vegetarian rolls or bowls continues to grow, he says.

Food inspired by the Indian subcontinent is behind the cuisine at Merzi, a Washington, D.C., restaurant that opened in 2010. “It is a very healthful, flavorful cuisine that is more of a European-Indian style,” says Qaiser Kazmi, the eatery’s founder.

Guests first choose a base (balsamic rice bowl, flatbread naan bowl, roti wrap, warm vegetables, or romaine lettuce), and then a protein (grilled or rotisserie chicken, beef, or lamb) that determines the entrée’s price. Next are sauces and chutneys.

“There are some ingredients that may not go well together, so it’s important that our employees know what works and what doesn’t,” Kazmi says. “If someone chooses a wrap and wants a lot of sauce, that could be a problem because it will leak.”

Asian Box is a newer entry, having opened its first unit last year. With influences from Vietnam and Thailand, the three-unit, San Francisco–area chain makes most items from scratch and gets many ingredients from local farmers.

“Ours is like a Vietnamese street stall,” says chief executive Frank Klein, who comes from a full-service restaurant background. “We don’t keep anything in steam trays because we don’t believe Asian food holds well.”

The name comes from the way an entrée is built: in a box. It begins with brown or jasmine rice, Asian vegetables, or chilled rice noodles, followed by a spiced meat or tofu. It’s then finished with toppings and sauces, including tamarind vinaigrette and sriracha.

Eating Ethnic: Traffic Drivers & Attitudes

June 26, 2013

For ethnic fare, U.K. consumers seek restaurants and menus that offer both an authentic taste and authentic ambiance.

It’s no surprise that consumer interest in and demand for ethnic foods at restaurants and other foodservice locations is on the rise. One quarter of all U.K. consumers (26%), and two-fifths of consumers aged 25–34 (40%), polled for Technomic’s 2012 U.K. Flavour Consumer Trend Report are more interested in trying ethnic cuisines and flavours than they were a year ago. Further, consumers call for more ethnic fare at restaurants. Fully 22% of consumers agree and another 30% agree somewhat that they would like to see more ethnic options at restaurants. This data signals greater opportunities for operators to differentiate their menus through globally influenced offerings and gain an increased share of consumers’ foodservice spending.

This piece will examine what is important to those seeking ethnic items as well as their willingness to try new cuisines.

Authenticity Is Key

A majority of U.K. consumers—71%—cite authentic taste as one of the most important factors in their decisions regarding ethnic foods. And it seems to be more important to older than younger consumers. Three-quarters of consumers aged 55+ (74%), compared to 60% of consumers aged 18–24, choose a restaurant for ethnic foods based on the authentic taste of the food.

Two-fifths of consumers feel it is very important that ethnic food be prepared by someone from that country or region. Again, older guests feel more strongly: 50% of consumers aged 55 or older place high importance on the food being prepared by someone from the country or region, compared to only 32% of consumers aged 18–24. Ethnic restaurants are limited in their ability to hire and retain staff from other countries, so operators of restaurants that base their appeal on authenticity of the fare may want to consider establishing apprenticeships allowing their chefs to train other cooks in order to maintain the authenticity of menu offerings.

Servers who are from the same country or region as the restaurant’s cuisine may also drive ethnic purchases at restaurants. Patrons may consider these servers to be more knowledgeable about the menu. Nearly half of consumers choose an ethnic restaurant based upon the staff’s knowledge about the menu. These consumers may be seeking menu suggestions or thorough answers to their questions about an unfamiliar ethnic ingredients or preparations.

Ambiance also plays a key role in creating an authentic experience. Almost three out of 10 consumers decide which restaurant or foodservice establishment to visit for ethnic foods based at least in part upon the authenticity of its ambiance or décor.

Interestingly, while more men (45%) than women (36%) feel that it is important that their ethnic food be prepared by someone from that country or region, more women than men place high importance on authentic ambiance (30% of women vs. 25% of men).

Some consumers also choose an ethnic restaurant based on general restaurant amenities. Three out of 10 consumers choose a restaurant to visit for ethnic fare based on the availability of takeaway, and 28% place importance on customisation at ethnic restaurants.

Base: 1,000 consumers aged 18+Source: The U.K. Ethnic Food & Beverage Consumer Trend Report, Technomic Inc. 2012

Base: 1,000 consumers aged 18+
Source: The U.K. Ethnic Food & Beverage Consumer Trend Report, Technomic Inc. 2012

Menu Attributes Can Drive Purchases

Consumers may not be familiar with some ethnic dishes available at restaurants, and in fact, many consumers choose ethnic foods to discover new flavours. Various menu features could aid consumers in choosing an enjoyable meal.

More than half of consumers (53%) feel it is important that the menu include descriptions of ethnic dishes. As we have seen, consumers place high importance on authenticity when choosing an ethnic restaurant, suggesting that these restaurants may use traditional ethnic names for menu items that may be unfamiliar to many consumers. So it’s no surprise that 37% of consumers prefer that menus at restaurants that offer ethnic items present their fare both in English and in the language corresponding to the cuisine.

Similarly, consumers place a high importance on a menu that includes ingredient listings and photos of ethnic dishes. More than a third of consumers feel it is important that a menu provides a list of ingredients in ethnic dishes, and a quarter would like to see photos of ethnic dishes.

More women than men report that descriptions and lists of ingredient for ethnic dishes are among their top five factors in deciding where to eat ethnic foods. This could be related to the fact that more women than men say they eat ethnic foods to discover new flavours and to try something new, suggesting that these women may be less familiar with the ethnic foods they are considering.

Consumers want to explore and discover new flavours through ethnic foods. However, some may not have much knowledge about ethnic dishes, particularly less familiar options. Operators may find that highlighting their popular dishes, ingredients or flavours can help consumers choose an appropriate dish. Additionally, operators can train their staff not only to be knowledgeable about the menu in order to answer patrons’ questions, but also to ask customers if they have questions. Without enough knowledge to make informed choices, consumers may skip over items they would enjoy.

Base: 1,000 consumers aged 18+ Source: The U.K. Ethnic Food & Beverage Consumer Trend Report, Technomic Inc. 2012

Base: 1,000 consumers aged 18+
Source: The U.K. Ethnic Food & Beverage Consumer Trend Report, Technomic Inc. 2012

Importance of Ethnic Beverages

Offering ethnic beverages native to the particular cuisine served at a restaurant can add to consumers’ perception of authenticity. Forty percent of all consumers polled agree that restaurants should provide ethnic beverages that are associated with the cuisine offered.

While about equal proportions of men (40%) and women (41%) agree that restaurants that offer ethnic foods should also offer ethnic beverages, differences emerge by age. Consumers aged 18–44 are more likely than those 45+ say that restaurants should offer ethnic beverages along with ethnic foods. Further, consumers aged 25–34 are the most likely to agree with this proposition, with half saying that restaurants that offer ethnic foods should also offer ethnic beverages native to the particular cuisine.

Base: 1,000 consumers aged 18+ Consumers responded using a 1–6 scale where 1 = disagree completely and 6 = agree completely Percentages may not equal cumulative percentage due to rounding Source: The U.K. Ethnic Food & Beverage Consumer Trend Report, Technomic Inc. 2012

Base: 1,000 consumers aged 18+
Consumers responded using a 1–6 scale where 1 = disagree completely and 6 = agree completely
Percentages may not equal cumulative percentage due to rounding
Source: The U.K. Ethnic Food & Beverage Consumer Trend Report, Technomic Inc. 2012

To Try or Not To Try?

Consumers’ attitudes toward trying ethnic foods largely fall somewhere between adventurous and conservative.

Technomic asked consumers about their attitudes toward trying mainstream and unique ethnic foods and flavours. Generally, consumers are neither particularly adventurous nor especially conservative about ethnic foods. More than two-fifths of consumers say they try both mainstream and unique ethnic foods from time to time.

On one end of the spectrum, 5% of consumers report that they prefer traditional foods and rarely try ethnic fare. These consumers are likely less adventurous eaters in general. Beyond these highly conservative eaters, more than a quarter of consumers (28%) enjoy ethnic foods and flavours but tend to try only those that are mainstream, such as Chinese, Indian and Thai.

On the other hand, some consumers are more enthusiastic about trying new ethnic foods and flavours. Seven percent of consumers say they actively seek out mainstream ethnic foods, and another 4% actively seek out unique ethnic foods.

Base: 1,000 consumers aged 18+ Source: The U.K. Ethnic Food & Beverage Consumer Trend Report, Technomic Inc. 2012

Base: 1,000 consumers aged 18+
Source: The U.K. Ethnic Food & Beverage Consumer Trend Report, Technomic Inc. 2012

Key Takeaway

Consumers want to try new ethnic flavours and appreciate authenticity in the global cuisines and influences that they grew up eating. Restaurants and other foodservice operators can help build traffic and loyalty by offering authentic dishes and experiences while educating consumers about the cuisines’ flavours, ingredients and preparations.

American Regional Cuisines Make Their Way Across the Pond

March 12, 2013

The U.S. is home to numerous regional cuisines that are often thought of as “ethnic” by U.K. consumers. Among these are Creole, Tex-Mex and regional American barbecue—three American specialities that are all gaining traction in the U.K.

Technomic’s recent U.K. Ethnic Food & Beverage Consumer Trend Report found that more than four out of five consumers see Creole cuisine as “ethnic.” Louisiana’s Creole cuisine—dubbed “city cooking” in New Orleans—has its refined French roots. It’s a rich, indulgent style of cooking that incorporates plenty of butter, cream and tomatoes. Most consumers who think Creole is ethnic consider it to be an emerging ethnic cuisine.

More than seven out of 10 U.K. consumers see Tex-Mex fare as “ethnic.” Tex-Mex is Americanised Mexican cuisine, a twist on traditional Mexican fare. More than half of consumers consider Tex-Mex to be mainstream.

And one-third of consumers consider American cuisine to be “ethnic.” Familiar American staples include hot dogs, burgers, fried chicken and deli sandwiches. The vast majority of consumers who identify American fare as “ethnic” say it is mainstream.


Base: 1,000 consumers aged 18+
Percentages may not equal cumulative percentage due to rounding
Percentages do not add up to 100%. The remaining percentage of consumers do not consider the cuisine to be ethnic.
Source: The U.K. Ethnic Food & Beverage Consumer Trend Report, Technomic Inc., 2012

The United States is a melting pot of ethnicities. The foods Americans eat are deeply influenced by a vast mix of global cultures and traditions as divergent as European, Native American, Asian and West African, which have come together over centuries to represent something distinctly American. Different cooking styles abound from state to state, such as the regional barbecue methods that span the country. Other distinctive regional American influences are found in Creole cuisine as well as Tex-Mex fare. The following sections look at each of these cuisines and their influence on U.K. menus.

Creole Flavors Rose from the South

Born in the southern state of Louisiana, Creole cuisine is perhaps the first ethnic-fusion cuisine apparent in the United States. Creole cuisine combines Native American, French, Spanish, African, Caribbean, German and Italian influences. Certain elements of this cooking style reflect its refined French roots, resulting in rich and indulgent menu items that often incorporate butter, cream and tomatoes. A variation on this sophisticated cuisine is spicy country-style Cajun, also from Louisiana.

Once beloved only by those living in Louisiana and other parts of the South, Creole foods like gumbo (a traditional roux-based stew), jambalaya (a melange of rice, sausage, chicken and seafood, similar to Spanish paella) and étouffée (a thick and spicy stew served over white rice) now appear widely on restaurant-chain menus across the United States. So do traditional Cajun cooking methods and seasonings, like blackened proteins (meat, chicken or seafood that is heavily crusted with spices and cooked) and spice-rubbed barbecued meats.

The vast majority of American consumers consider these home-grown cuisines to be ethnic. Survey responses for Technomic’s U.S. Ethnic Food & Beverage Consumer Trend Report showed that 86% thought of Creole and Cajun cuisines as ethnic.

Louisiana-style regional American cuisine has a tiny niche on restaurant-chain menus in the U.K., suggesting that these cuisines may have room to grow on menus. According to MenuMonitor, Technomic’s exclusive menu database, most of these Louisiana-style items on U.K. menus simply call for Creole or Cajun spices incorporated as a rub for chicken or shrimp, a seasoning for burgers, a flavour for batter or breading, or an accent to mayonnaise or another condiment.

Going forward, the trends for regional Louisiana cuisine will include more experimentation by restaurant chefs in order to showcase not just spice blends, but actual Creole and Cajun specialities. Here are two examples of classic Louisiana-style main courses as seen on the menus of major restaurant chains:

  • Creole Gumbo—served with garlic bread (Bodean’s)
  • Louisiana Cajun Jambalaya—chicken, spicy chorizo, crayfish and rice, in an authentic Creole sauce with mushrooms, onions and tomatoes (Smollensky Bar & Grill)

Tex-Mex: Americanised Mexican

Another distinctive ethnic cuisine in the United States is Tex-Mex, which melds Mexican culinary traditions with the food ingredients and preparations of the Southwestern United States—specifically, the state of Texas. Sprung from the ranching culture of southern Texas and northern Mexico, Tex-Mex fare originated among Tejanos—Texans of Mexican descent. Traditional Mexican ways of cooking were incorporated with North American food products (such as yellow cheeses) that were affordable and readily available, leading to a blended cuisine that has become known as Tex-Mex or Southwestern.

Today, popular Tex-Mex foods include chilli con carne (diced or ground beef with chillies or chilli powder), fajitas (marinated, grilled steak or chicken, cut into strips and served with warm flour tortillas, grilled onions and peppers for diners to assemble into wraps) and nachos—crisp tortilla chips topped with melted cheese (typically cheddar), chopped jalapeño peppers and assorted components ranging from seasoned meat to tomatoes, lettuce and sour cream.

Tex-Mex preparations and flavours have thrived for decades in the U.S., and there are signs that this regional American cuisine has established itself as a menu favourite in the U.K. in recent years. For example, fajitas and nachos are fixtures on many full-service casual-dining menus, and there are even major chains in the U.K. that directly position menu offerings as “Tex-Mex.”

  • Artisserie offers Tex-Mex Chicken Soup
  • Hungry Horse offers a signature Tex-Mex Burger, as well as a Tex-Mex Combo, featuring ribs and chicken
  • Pizza GoGo offers a Tex-Mex starter sampler
  • Wacky Warehouse’s Tex-Mex Criss Cross Fries are topped with guacamole, Heinz tomato salsa and sour cream

American Barbecue Is Deeply Regionalised

In the U.S., barbecue (including smoked pork, beef, chicken, sausages and other proteins—and all of its sauces and accompaniments) is a regionalised cuisine. Ask Americans in one part of the U.S. to describe their favourite barbecue meal, and the answer will differ widely from that of Americans in another part of the country. The Southern-style barbecue in Memphis, Tennessee, differs from a style of barbecue that is beloved in the Midwestern city of St. Louis, which in turn will differ from the barbecue style and barbecue sauces that are traditional in Texas.

Promoting quality and skill of preparation for regional barbecue is a solid trend on North American restaurant menus. There are signs that both brick-and-mortar restaurants and food-truck operators in the U.K. are beginning to underscore regional differences in American barbecue as well. Regionalising barbecue means successfully executing the culinary nuances between “dry” (spice-rubbed, served with no sauce) and “wet” (drenched in barbecue sauce) barbecued meats, as well as distinguishing between sauces—from the thick, molasses-based, sticky barbecue sauces of St. Louis or Kansas City to the thinner, mustard- and vinegar-based sauces of the coastal Carolinas.

For most U.K. operators attempting to operate within this sphere, it is enough at the moment to simply position American barbecue offerings as “Southern,” while also playing up the decidedly British love of roast meat preparations. This positioning works for Pitt Cue, the Southern-inspired barbecue concept that first built a customer base off its food-truck operation before launching a standalone restaurant venture. Pitt Cue offers a British take on Southern-style American barbecue. “Our food is inspired by the Southern United States of America, but as Brits we love to make things our own,” the chain’s website proclaims. “We make all our own sauces and rubs and our meat is cooked low and slow, smoked in-house and finished over charcoal. Our produce is British, ethically sourced, and our menu changes with the British seasons.”

Here are a few examples of mainstream U.K. restaurant chains that are trying to emphasise regional qualities for American-style barbecue in order to build the perception of quality:

  • Bodean’s signature pulled pork shoulder is accompanied by a Carolina-style barbecue sauce
  • Miller & Carter’s St. Louis Ribs are served with an “authentic American barbecue sauce”
  • Tavern Table offers a Memphis Cherry BBQ sauce as a barbecue accent to various items, including rotisserie chicken

Key Takeaway

Consumer interest in and demand for ethnic foods at restaurants and other foodservice locations is on the rise. For operators seeking to differentiate their menus through globally influenced offerings to gain an increased share of consumers’ foodservice spending, American regional cuisines can be a flavourful tool in their arsenal.

Darren Tristano is Senior Managing Director of Technomic Inc., a Chicago-based foodservice consultancy and research firm. Since 1993, he has led the development of Technomic’s Information Services division and directed multiple aspects of the firm’s operations. For more information, visit http://www.technomic.com.

February 14, 2013



Foodservice Interchange 2013

March 4, 2013
Allstream Centre, Toronto

Meet One of Our Speakers

Darren Tristano, Executive Vice President, Technomic, Inc. will share key insights into the evolution of foodservice trends. Learn about trends migrating from the US and Internationally into Canada as well as some home grown Canadian influences making an impact elsewhere.  You won’t want to miss learning about the newest trends for 2013 and what these could mean for your business:

  1. Snacking, small plates and sharing blur traditional dayparts. Changing dining habits are impacting all dayparts. Consumers want their meals and snacks when and where it’s convenient. Expect chefs to get more creative by paring down traditional entrées into creative small plates, looking to street trucks for snacking inspiration, and incorporating more ethnic flavours and ingredients into sharing dishes.
  2. Taking chicken to new heights. The better-burger trend has spread like wildfire across Canada. Building off the burger trend, chefs will turn to the humble chicken as the next workaday food primed for a gourmet update. Look for increasing use of high-quality birds raised locally, naturally and humanely.
  3. Veggies find more prominence on the plate. Expect to see not just more locally sourced, in-season fresh veggies siding up to proteins, but more vegetarian entrées as well.
  4. Asian breaks out. From the burgeoning ramen scene in Toronto to Japanese tapas restaurants in Vancouver, expect to see interest in the multitude of food cultures that Asia has to offer. This includes not just up-and-coming Southeast Asian dishes from Vietnam, Singapore and Malaysia, but regional Chinese and Japanese fusion as well.
  5. Specialty approach to beverages. Artisan preparation and ethnic flavours are not just hot food trends—chefs are exercising their creativity beyond the plate with beverage innovation too. Restaurants are now crafting everything from craveable small-batch sodas to exotic refreshers like South American aguas frescas. Consumers are also seeking more authenticity at restaurants, particularly when it comes to ethnic dining. We’ll see more and more food-and-beverage pairings that complete an ethnic dining experience.

Date: March 4, 2013
Registration and Networking Breakfast: 7:45 a.m. – 8:30 a.m.
Conference: 8:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.
For complete details: contact FCPC – Heather Spencer, heathers@fcpc.ca or 416-510-9050

Many New Yorkers Were Opposed to the Sugary Beverage Ban

December 27, 2012

12-12_0Our athletes went to the Olympics, our science went to Mars, and our people went to the polls. But what of the restaurant industry in 2012? These dozen items from the year had the biggest impact on the foodservice landscape and shaped the industry for a potentially game-changing 2013.

An Economy in Flux

The economic recovery isn’t lighting a fire under anyone’s feet, but the economy did at least improve, albeit slightly.

As of August, the National Restaurant Association’s (NRA) Restaurant Performance Index had been positive for nine consecutive months. It has since been weakening, however, indicating operators are less optimistic about economic conditions going into 2013.

“In the winter quarter [of 2012], we started to see things looking good,” says Bonnie Riggs, restaurant analyst with NPD Group, a Chicago market research company. “We thought we turned the corner. But then gasoline prices increased and people pulled back.”

The Congressional Budget Office’s outlook is for the economy to grow less than 2 percent in 2013. The Conference Board, a business group, is slightly more optimistic, estimating growth at 2.2 percent.

However, if Congress fails to avert a series of tax hikes and budget cuts due in January—the so-called “fiscal cliff”—analysts warn another recession could ensue, which could undo any kind of progress quick-service operators have made.

Health Headaches and Solutions

Health issues continue to impact restaurants, both in menu development and how operators deal with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), also known as “Obamacare.”

The U.S. Supreme Court this year upheld the constitutionality of most of PPACA.

Many restaurants may need to undergo some significant cost analyses next year to prepare for a wide range of regulations scheduled to begin in 2014.

“We’re going to see a lot of financial modeling going forward, and deciding how to manage the costs,” says Dennis Lombardi, executive vice president of foodservice strategies at WD Partners, a Columbus, Ohio, design and consulting firm. “It seems the way it may be playing out is to find ways to keep employee hours down and make more of them part-timers.”

One portion of the act that may go into effect in 2013 requires chain restaurants with 20 or more locations to display calories on menuboards.

Many companies have decided not to wait for the law’s implementation, though, including McDonald’s. In September, all of McDonald’s 14,000-plus U.S. restaurants began listing calorie counts on menuboards.

The proactive move by McDonald’s “is a real positive,” says Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic Inc., a Chicago consulting and market research firm.

The calorie numbers “may be more of a shock at first, but when [consumers] return, they will still want to indulge,” Tristano says. “That’s what you do when you go out.”

Meanwhile, all types of limited-service operators began offering better-for-you alternatives, from oatmeal to sweet potato fries.

The Big Soda Ban

Any consumer who plans to visit a restaurant in New York City in March or after shouldn’t expect to buy sugar-sweetened beverages larger than 16 ounces. They’re outlawed.

In a stated bid to combat obesity, the city’s Board of Health instituted the ban at eateries, movie theaters, and other venues.

Restaurants call the action unfair, in part because it still allows larger drinks to be purchased at retail outlets and convenience stores. Whether the ban sweeps across the country, like the city’s earlier action against trans fats, is still up in the air.

“We’ll have to take a wait-and-see approach,” Technomic’s Darren Tristano says. “I suspect if history serves us, it will likely become a political issue … and likely will spread to other cities.”

Commodity Costs Rise

The most severe drought in a quarter century has had a serious impact on U.S. agriculture and food prices. The damage done to corn and other crops was extensive and resulted in higher direct and indirect costs.

Many ranchers are running out of grass. Unable to grow enough feed crops—or unwilling to pay for higher priced feed—they are thinning their herds by selling cattle early. That will likely result in fewer cattle going to market next year, making beef and other proteins more expensive, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Wholesale beef prices were already up 10.5 percent by 2012’s third quarter, while poultry prices increased 11.5 percent. Heat stress and higher feed costs are expected to reduce pork production as well, the department says.

“If you look at the USDA forecast for a year ago, there was no contingency for a drought of this severity and duration,” says Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of the NRA’s Research and Knowledge Group.

Interactive Imitation

Consumers increasingly want to know more about what’s in their food, and also desire the ability to customize their dishes more than ever before. For years, quick-service concepts such as Chipotle and Subway have capitalized on this desire by giving guests the ability to craft their own dishes, choosing from an array of fresh ingredients.

In 2012, this build-your-own strategy continued to become more rule than exception, expanding into categories like pizza and even ethnic concepts. Newer brands, such as Pie Five, Atlanta’s Uncle Maddio’s, and Washington, D.C.’s Amsterdam Falafelshop, are now thriving on the model.

“We expect to see this basic model growing,” Tristano says. “Customers want to be part of the process, and the visual impact is important. Interactivity engages the customer. This is an emotional connection that makes loyal fans of these restaurants.”

A New Kind of Trade Down

Most of the restaurant industry suffered during the recession, but fast-casual restaurants still performed well. Folks may not have been eating out as often, but when they did, they were looking for quality and value. Many found those attributes at Chipotle, Panera Bread, and their fast-casual peers.

Numerous full-service restaurant companies took notice.

“Casual-dining chains continue to look at whether they have a limited-service opportunity,” Lombardi says. “It allows them to extend the reach of their brand, and in some cases move into areas where full service may not work as well.”

Abuelo’s Mexican Restaurant is one of the latest casual chains to open a fast-casual offshoot, which it did this year with its Abuelo’s Taqueria in Lubbock, Texas. The menu items and pricing are focused on promoting frequent dining.

The opening comes on the heels of several new ventures launched by casual chains in late 2011, including Red Robin’s Burger Works and Pizza Inn’s Pie Five.

Pie Five, which makes handcrafted pizzas in five minutes, has more than a half-dozen corporate-owned locations in the Dallas area.

“We will be looking at other markets [in 2013] from a corporate standpoint, as well as domestic and international franchising,” says Madison Jobe, senior vice president and chief development officer for Pie Five and Pizza Inn.

Other chains launching fast-casual units included Steak ‘n Shake, with its Signature unit in New York; Shoney’s, with Shoney’s On the Go; FATZ, with Tablefields Market Kitchen; and global beef bowl giant Yoshinoya, with Asiana Grill Yoshinoya.

Ethnic Flavors Gain More Exposure

Americans have made Italian, Mexican, and Chinese cuisines their own, so why not something like Vietnamese or Indian?

Pho, a noodle soup, and banh mi, a sandwich typically made with French bread, are some of the latest cultural dishes to hit the mainstream, often with a U.S. twist.

“People were drawn first by the pho, but now banh mi is very popular, especially as a reimagined American sandwich,” says Melissa Abbott, senior director of culinary insights for The Hartman Group, a research and consulting firm in Bellevue, Washington.

“You have a sandwich on really good French bread filled with really fresh ingredients,” she notes. “It has a flavor that is heightened by various fresh herbs and vegetables.”

Tin Drum AsiaCafé, which has 11 units in the Atlanta area, serves cuisines from around Asia, including pho. Owner Steven Chan says the chain had banh mi on the menu a decade ago and may bring it back “because it’s getting popular again.”

Giving an American twist to Indian food is what Qaiser Kazmi is doing in Washington, D.C. His restaurant, Merzi, features Indian-inspired cuisine with U.S. touches. For example, Merzi serves tandisserie chicken, which is tandoori chicken cooked rotisserie style.

“Our cuisine is not directly from India,” Kazmi says. “We would never leave skin on chicken back there. But I fell in love with rotisserie chicken and wanted to combine that with something that has Indian flavors.”

The Reverse Food-Truck Trend

For Kim Ima, opening the Treats Truck Stop in Brooklyn last year was the logical next step for the owner of a popular food truck.

“I like that I had established my business before opening the storefront,” she says of her truck, the Treats Truck, which has served treats and drinks since 2007. The restaurant offers homey comfort food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Food-truck operators across the country, from Boston to Los Angeles and Houston, are similarly turning to brick and mortar.

In the five years since the gourmet food-truck phenomenon began on the coasts, thousands of these vehicles have hit the nation’s streets, giving budding restaurateurs a relatively inexpensive entry into the business. But it’s not easy.

“You’ve got this small space, gas costs, repairs, weather, licensing—all kinds of issues,” says David Weber, president of the NYC Food Truck Association. “So a lot of food-truck entrepreneurs, once they develop a brand, are looking for more stability. It’s logical to take their concept and give it a home.”

The Future of Social Media is Here

Now that many restaurants have found ways to take advantage of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, they’ve moved on to other, newer social media platforms, such as Pinterest.

Pinterest is akin to a visual bulletin board, where images can be “pinned” to virtual boards. They can be downloaded to the board or can be taken from (and linked to) other websites.

Dunkin’ Donuts, for example, uses photos on Pinterest to link to various events, as well as products, including limited-time offers.

“Pinterest seems a way for the social media strategy to involve more of the customer and the community,” Tristano says. “Instead of pushing out from the company, this is trying to draw customers in to be part of it, to have a shared experience.”

Don’t Forget Boomers

While focusing on Millennials is all the rage, many restaurant operators also understand that Baby Boomers still make up a lot of the nation’s buying power. Members of the generation are looking to dine at places that feature unique flavors and provide plenty of value.

“It’s really the Boomers and those over 65 that are keeping the [restaurant] industry from experiencing a decline,” NPD’s Riggs says. “Boomers are increasing their visits to all restaurant types, but particularly quick service … and fast casual.”

Of course, younger diners typically will be the first to hear about new and exciting limited-service restaurants.

“The Millennial kid knows where the cool stuff is and will tell mom and dad to try it,” Abbott explains. “They are more tapped into the social network. But the parents are increasingly curious to try new places. In the past, that may not have been so.”

Exploring the IPO

One major quick-service restaurant company went to market this year with a big stock deal, while another chain’s plans to go public didn’t get off the ground.

Burger King took its crown back to Wall Street. The Miami-based company’s shares began trading publicly through an unusual deal in which investment firm Justice Holdings paid $1.4 billion to acquire a 29 percent stake from owner 3G Capital.

CKE Restaurants, the Carpinteria, California, parent of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, had planned a $200 million public offering but delayed it. Concerns were raised about the impact of required health-care costs and rising commodity prices.

“The market was willing to give restaurant companies a premium valuation early in the year,” says R.J. Hottovy, restaurant industry analyst with Morningstar in Chicago. “A lot of them were operating at peak margins. Since then, there have been some concerns about the industry’s fundamentals.”

Brand Evolution Continues

Quick serves are always tweaking their images, but there were some major changes in store for menus at some larger chains in 2012.

One of the most notable chains to do this was Burger King, where an array of new menu items, including smoothies, salads, chicken wraps, and specialty coffee drinks, were added to broaden the brand’s customer base. That was the first part of a four-pillar, $750 million strategy Burger King announced in the spring.

Taco Bell also welcomed major menu innovations. The Irvine, California–based brand launched the highly successful Doritos Locos Tacos, featuring shells made with the taste and flavor of Doritos snack chips. Then the chain rolled out a Cantina Bell line of upscale burritos, bowls, and sides created by noted chef Lorena Garcia.

Taco Bell also introduced breakfast at about 800 West Coast locations.

“What Taco Bell has done is a testament to product innovation,” says restaurant analyst Hottovy. The chain “remains in its core competency, broadens its appeal, and takes the pricing point upward.”

Ethnic Foods Push Roller Grill Sales

December 19, 2012

Roller grills, the backbone of many convenience store foodservice programs, continue to provide chains with an inexpensive, labor-friendly foodservice concept that allows store operators to expand their fresh food offering.

By Howard Riell, Associate Editor.

Discussions about trendy ethnic roller grill items require participants to learn a number of words in Spanish. Now, as retailers continue to push the envelope in the race to be the first to market with new products, it may also be time to brush up on your Yiddish.

More than a year in the planning, 7-Eleven debuted its first-ever kosher grill this August at a store in the heavily Orthodox Jewish enclave of Monsey, N.Y. The good fortune of franchisees and brothers Anthony and Michael Mendicino is twofold: the concentration of consumers with very specific dietary requirements and the relative lack of kosher restaurants and other prepared-food options.

The Mendicinos held a Customer Appreciation Day on Aug. 5 offering free samples of their kosher grill offerings: beef frankfurters, hot and spicy beef links and Polish sausages, as well as knishes and kosher condiments—along with kosher Slurpee drinks for sale, face-painters, music and clowns.

As part of the store’s remodel last year, 7-Eleven added a second grill, which lit a light bulb over the brothers’ heads. Since eight out of 10 of their customers keep kosher, why not meet their needs?

The store had long sold kosher pre-wrapped sandwiches, milk, baked goods and frozen meals, but nothing hot and ready to eat. They hired a pair of Orthodox Jewish chefs and ordered the food product from kosher purveyors.

“This is something our guests have wanted for years,” Michael Mendicino said. “‘When will we have hot dogs too?’ they kept asking. We have some packaged kosher sandwiches and snacks, and we tried a kosher hot dog vending machine once. That worked for a while, but when the company servicing the machine was sold, it became a problem. Now the community is really buzzing about the kosher grill.”

Community Buying In

Rabbinic oversight of kosher food standards—a requirement for the items—was assigned to Rabbi Zushe Yosef Blech. “We thought it would do very well and the response from the community has been phenomenal,” Mendicino said. “Sales have been through the roof.”

Indeed, the store quickly sold 400 hot dogs in a single day, and the kosher dogs have outsold the standard ones, by a 10-to-1 margin. Blech said the kosher items have had enormous crossover appeal to non-Jewish customers because of their perceived healthier ingredients.

The grill items are available for both lunch and dinner. An overhead sign reads KOSHER HEAVEN AT 7-ELEVEN and informs customers about the kosher supervision.

The Mendicinos reached out to 7-Eleven zone merchandiser Robin Murphy about the need to separate the kosher and regular grill. “I visited their store multiple times and saw residential developments being constructed where the primary residents were of the Hasidic Jewish faith,” Murphy said. “In addition, a new synagogue and yeshiva (religious school) were being built about two blocks from the store, and a girls’ school was nearby as well.”

Murphy knew the hurdles that had to be cleared. “We needed to have a ‘glatt’ kosher product, which is the designation necessary to gain rabbinical supervision,” she noted. “It took us several months to find the right vendor and products.”

Globex Kosher Food Inc. of Brooklyn created exclusive recipes for the Monsey store, while most of the condiments are being sourced by Heinz. Aside from the dedicated grill and condiment bar, a separate storage area for the kosher products has been designated.

Ethnic Opportunity

The potential of adding new ethnic fare to a store’s roller grill offering comes at a good time, according to Chicago-based research and consulting firm Technomic Inc. In late August, the company released findings showing that consumers’ desire for ethnic food away from home hasn’t slowed one iota.

Better still, Technomic executive vice president Darren Tristano noted, “Chain restaurants aren’t meeting current consumer demand for new foods and flavors.”

Only a quarter of consumers polled as part of a recent survey said they are satisfied with the availability of ethnic offerings at limited-service and full-service chains. “This translates into opportunities for operators to differentiate their menus and gain market share with globally-inspired offerings,” Tristano said.

But authenticity is crucial when it comes to making an ethnic food purchasing decision—a factor that seems perfectly suited to the kosher world, where consumers are not only acutely aware of, but insistent upon authenticity.

Technomic also found that three out of four consumers purchase ethnic foods and flavors away from home at least once a month. Not surprisingly, the trend is strongly driven nationwide by Asian and Hispanic respondents, with 90% and 88% of these consumers, respectively, buying ethnic food or flavors away-from-home at least once a month. Nor does “ethnic” have to mean international. Nearly nine out of 10 consumers surveyed they consider regional U.S. cuisines, such as Cajun (89%) and Creole (86%), to be ethnic.

The growing Hispanic population appears to be driving the spicy trend. As a result, new products are hitting the market to meet the demand. “We believe the Hispanic market is the average consumer buying from the roller grill, so I think everybody is focused on it as much as we are,” said Paul Servais, retail foodservice director for Kwik Trip Inc., which operates more than 360 c-stores in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa.

In addition, more retailers are adding breakfast sausages to the roller grill to entice hungry customers in the morning who stop for coffee on the way to work.

Steps to Success

Retailers can help keep their roller grill program enticing to consumers by keeping it fully stocked with fresh items and by bundling meals, such as a roller grill item, a bag of chips and a fountain drink at a discounted price.

More than ever, consumers are looking for value and QSR restaurants are meeting this desire with cheaper daypart options, like the dollar menu deals offered at McDonald’s, Wendy’s and others.

Today, customers desire a large array of options, but also want to know that their store sells their favorite products. Talking to customers is a great way to get feedback on what’s working, although retailers say customers are not shy about being vocal if their product is missing. Many retailers are sticking to tried-and-true brands and flavors, but meeting the demand for variety with an extensive condiment bar nearby, which allows customers to dress their brat or hot dog to fit their preferences.

Chevron, for example, began rolling out its ExtraGood To Go foodservice program at its ExtraMile stores, which makes foodservice a strong destination within the store.

Banner advertising with beauty shots of daypart items greet customers at the pump. Inside the store, uniform signage and strategically placed spotlights draw customer focus to the roller grill, food warmer and menu board.

The oil company has focused on emphasizing the brands consumers know, and all roller grill items have a designated place on the roller grill, so customers can locate their favorites quickly during repeat visits. In addition, all roller grill items are precooked, which ensures the meats are served safe and heated to the optimal temperature.

As a result, what customers see is ready to eat rather than a sign asking them to come back in 15 minutes, as some chains do when cooking items directly on the roller grill.

What’s Behind the Flavour Dichotomy?

June 22, 2012

U.K. consumers say they want back-to-basics flavours on one hand, new and adventurous tastes on the other.

Still impacted by the lingering economic recession, today’s U.K. consumers are hesitant about spending, causing restaurant-goers to be more demanding than ever as they actively seek the best overall value. Technomic research shows that flavour is more important than ever before, driving customer traffic, shaping the overall dining experience and helping operators differentiate themselves.

Consumers indicate that they are increasingly driven to try unique flavours. Nearly three out of 10 consumers overall, and two-fifths of consumers aged 18–34, say they are more likely to try new flavours than they were a year ago, according to the latest Flavour Consumer Trend Report. Additionally, 39% of consumers express a preference for restaurants that offer unique or original flavours, up from only 35% of those polled in 2010. On the other hand, our research also highlights the impressive staying power of tried-and-true flavour profiles.

Together these findings signal the need for operators and suppliers to stay on top of flavour trends to reinvigorate classic offerings with innovative twists.

In Search of Flavour

Consumers seek out value, convenience and an overall satisfactory experience when choosing to dine out, but the taste and flavour of the food is arguably the most important factor of all. Differentiated flavour profiles fuel cravings, rouse consumer interest in the menu and most importantly, can help drive repeat restaurant visits.

When asked to describe their attitude towards trying new flavours, two-thirds of consumers (66%) indicate that they like to try new flavours from time to time—the same percentage of consumers in 2010. These consumers likely have a desire to try different flavours occasionally, but also enjoy ordering foods with familiar flavour profiles.

One-quarter of consumers (24%) say they actively seek out new flavours on a regular basis. Comparison data shows that consumers are slightly more likely to often seek out new flavours today than one year ago, perhaps due to a wider availability of ethnic or unique foods.

Base: 1,000 (2010 and 2011) consumers aged 18+
Source: Technomic Inc. Flavour Consumer Trend Report

While men and women are just as likely to actively seek out new flavours on a regular basis, data suggests that females may be more willing to try new flavours. More females (69%) than males (62%) report that they like trying new flavours from time to time. In contrast, twice as many males (14%) as females (7%) report that they prefer sticking to their favourite flavours and rarely try new ones.

Because the majority of consumers enjoy trying new flavours occasionally but do not actively seek them out, operators will want to consider low-risk menu strategies that allow for flavour innovation without ostracising those who are looking for classic flavours. For example, putting an innovative twist on an established favourite is a great way for operators to experiment with new and unique flavours without putting themselves at risk. And operators can explore new flavour profiles with limited-time-only and seasonal offerings. This strategy allows them to easily add and subtract items without making changes to the core menu.

Ethnic Flavours Can Fill the Bill

Although consumers most strongly prefer what is familiar to them, they are increasingly interested in expanding their palates. A quarter of consumers (26%) are more interested in trying ethnic flavours and cuisines now than they were one year ago. This is up slightly from 2010, when just 24% of consumers agreed.

Consumers aged 25–34 are the most likely to indicate a greater interest in ethnic flavours and cuisines compared to a year ago. Further, this group of consumers represent the largest increased interest in ethnic options (33% in 2010 versus 40% in 2011). Consumers aged 45+ also show a slightly greater interest in ethnic options today than in 2010.

Base: 1,000 (2010 and 2011) consumers aged 18+
Consumers indicated their opinion on a scale of 1–6 where 6 = extremely important and 1 = not important at all
Source: Technomic Inc. Flavour Consumer Trend Report

Unique Flavours as a Traffic Driver

Two out of five consumers report that new or innovative flavours influence their decision of which restaurant to visit. This sentiment is especially pronounced among consumers aged 25–34. About half of consumers in this age group say they would be more likely to visit a restaurant that offers new or innovative flavours.

Flavour innovation is slightly more important for operators today than in 2010, when just 35% of consumers agreed that they were more likely to visit restaurants that offer new or innovative flavours. Consumers aged 25–34 are especially more likely to visit a restaurant offering innovative flavours today than a year ago, with a 15% jump over the past year. Operators looking to appeal to this demographic may want to examine their menu to make sure they offer new and unique flavours.

Base: 1,000 (2010 and 2011) consumers aged 18+
Consumers indicated their opinion on a scale of 1–6 where 6 = agree completely and 1 = disagree completely
Source: Technomic Inc. Flavour Consumer Trend Report

The study also found that three out of 10 consumers say they are willing to pay more for a restaurant meal featuring new or unique flavours. Furthermore, this percentage has increased since 2010, when just 28% of consumers agreed that they would be willing to pay more for these restaurant offerings.

For some operators, this signals room to experiment with new and unique flavours. While adding unique flavours to the menu could lead to increased costs, in terms of skill, labour or rare ingredients, these costs may be offset if the flavour is well accepted and the menu item can be offered at a premium price point.

Back to Basic British

Despite consumers’ love for new flavours, national pride has driven up the demand for classic British food and drink, from artisan English food preparations to U.K. wines, beer and cider.

Aside from the revelry of the Jubilee and Olympics, another factor is fuelling this craving for the nostalgic: the global economic downturn. As belts tighten, there’s a return to the simple things, such as foods that evoke home cooking and a comfortable feeling. The comfort-food trend features strong British influences that are reflected in ingredients from meats to produce.

This love of all things British has many restaurant chefs returning to a “back to basics” approach to cooking. This retro sensibility includes a focus on local foods, subtle flavours and natural, artisan preparations that bring out familiar tastes.

Watch for continued exploration of foods and flavours derived from local farms and regional purveyors. Linked to freshness (and thus better flavour) in the minds of consumers, local and seasonal ingredients on the menu can convey a strong message of quality for classic foods. Flavour combinations will be simple, veering away from innovative or unique spice blends, seasonings and sauces to emphasise the traditional and subtle instead.

Look for chefs to also increase their promotion of traditional bread-making, butter-churning, cheese-making, butchery, charcuterie and other hands-on, artisanal preparation techniques. According to Foodwatching.com, some chefs may even own farms or elsewhere grow their own produce, in order to tout the quality and robust flavour of the ingredients that they use to create British favourites like fish and chips and pies.

On the other hand, a literal interpretation of the classics isn’t the flavour route that some chefs are taking; instead, they’re reinventing traditional British foods. For example, Chef Gary Rhodes showcases his love for British cuisine at his namesake restaurants. Rhodes has devoted his career to reinvigorating public interest in British foods by putting new upscale twists on traditional dishes.

Rhodes Twenty Four restaurant in London puts a spin on the conventional, and offers steamed mutton and onion suet pudding with crushed swede; pressed duck foie gras and pheasant terrine with quince and thyme jelly; and free-range English duck with caramelised turnips, buttered curly kale and duck prune gravy. Desserts include warm treacle tart with orange-curd ice cream and warm date pudding with toffee sauce and sticky-toffee ice cream.

Key Takeaway

Emphasising traditional flavours on the menu is a solid trend, but so is consumers’ continuous curiosity to try new foods. To delight those consumers, operators should work to develop flavours that stand out and mark menu differentiation. The bottom line is that inventive flavours—in combination with preparation styles—can create a craving for a particular food item, which in turn draws customers who cannot duplicate the flavour profile in their own kitchen or find in any other restaurant.

Seattle’s Best Is Overhauling Its Image After Losing Tons Of Stores When Borders Died

April 9, 2012

Seattle’s Best Is Overhauling Its Image After Losing Tons Of Stores When Borders Died

Emily Bryson, Chicago Tribune | Mar. 19, 2012, 10:47 AM

March 19–Seattle’s Best Coffee, which lost about 450 of its cafes when Borders bookstores closed, is overhauling its image in pursuit of a different customer.

The Seattle-based, Starbucks-owned chain expects to open a prototype store Monday in west suburban Northlake that aims to serve young working-class families, particularly Hispanics, who spend their mornings in the car.

Its first store in the new style, a drive-through on North Avenue adjacent to aWal-Mart, features glass outer walls and a gray interior with a large menu board, nearly split between food and drinks. It’s a stark contrast to the well-known Borders design of secluded cafes with wood tables and chairs, and a pictureless menu focused on beverages. (Seattle’s Best still has a stand-alone location in this style in downtown Chicago.)

Pop music filled the store during a friends-and-family tasting event to prepare for Monday’s opening. Steven Kupisch, whose fiancee works at the cafe, said while his favorite beverage was an iced marble mocha, an espresso beverage with white and dark chocolate sauce, he liked the cold-brewed iced coffee too.

“I’ve tried iced coffee everywhere and don’t like it,” he said. “But this I’ll have again.”

After the Borders bankruptcy, Senior Vice President Jim McDermet said the chain “saw a real opportunity to pause, take a look at the broader market,” and see “what was the market opportunity not being met.”

The chain was looking for an idea that could be rolled out to thousands of stores nationwide and catapult the brand past $1 billion in annual sales. Starbucks does not disclose Seattle’s Best revenues, but McDermet said he believes it can be a “multibillion-dollar brand.”

In recent years, the company has overhauled its grocery packaged coffee and established national contracts that lend coffee credibility to fast-food chains making a go at breakfast, like Subway and Burger King, and even convenience chains like Chevron’s ExtraMile.

Seattle’s Best had previously marketed itself as a more approachable alternative for people put off by Starbucks. After eight months of research, the 42-year-old brand has tightened its focus, courting workers and young, on-the-go families who spend mornings in the car, buying coffee beverages at fast-food chains or gas stations. Chris Bruzzo, chief marketing officer for Seattle’s Best, said that about half of the U.S. population over age 18 fits into this category.

But Seattle’s Best is particularly keen on building its Hispanic customer base. Bruzzo said Hispanics are the fastest-growing population within the company’s new consumer target, and Northlake was chosen with Hispanics in mind. The store has three employees who speak Spanish fluently, and two who speak Polish.

To overhaul its menu, the company spent time with Chicago-area Hispanics, Bruzzo said. The result is a number of sweet beverage options including a caramel candy latte, a creme brulee latte, and caramel, hazelnut or vanilla flavored creams.

He said the group also asked for a variety of food options for breakfast, lunch and snacks, with healthy and indulgent options. The result is a line of egg sandwiches on English muffins or biscuits; cookies; sausage-and-egg biscuit bites; pretzel sandwich rolls; mini fruit pies and multigrain fruit bars.

The new menu is being offered only at the Northlake store, but the company said it could be rolled out to existing locations quickly.

Seattle’s Best expects its status as a known, premium brand to vault it past fast-food competitors with penny-pinching coffee lovers. But Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Chicago-based Technomic, believes the retooled Seattle’s Best is more likely to cannibalize sales from Starbucks.

Still, “from a strategic standpoint, I think they’d rather draw away from their own customer base than allow a competitor to draw away from it,” he said. “If they can siphon some Starbucks customers and others from places like Dunkin’, that makes them very competitive.”

Tristano said he believes Dunkin’ customers buy sandwiches as an add-on while stopping in for coffee, rather than a belief that the products are high quality. At Seattle’s Best, however, he said customers will expect a more upscale experience and food quality to match.

Tristano said he expects Seattle’s Best to be competitive with Dunkin’ and McDonald’son price for a la carte orders, but he believes they’ll fall short for those seeking deals on bundled meals.

But at least one customer was considering a change Friday.

Emaad Elhindi, a Dunkin’ regular who strolled into Seattle’s Best on his way to Wal-Mart, described the chain’s coffee as “the best.”


Twitter @emilyyork

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Noodles & Co. expands in Washington

April 6, 2012

Noodles & Co. expands in Washington

By Danielle Douglas, Published: March 18

Getting your fix of pad thai, penna rosa or mac and cheese will get easier this year as Noodles & Co. opens eight fast-casual eateries throughout the Washington area.

The new additions will give the Broomfield, Colo.-based company a total of 30 locations in the region, which it entered 10 years ago with a restaurant in Fairfax. Eateries are to open this spring in Chantilly, Falls Church, Reston, Springfield, Alexandria, and Germantown, and on K Street NW and in Georgetown in the District.

Built on the notion that noodles are a universal comfort food, the chain offers a medley of Asian, Mediterranean and American pasta dishes starting around $5 a bowl. Patrons can opt for a small or regular-size bowl of noodles, soup or salad, which they can customize with add-ins of meat, shrimp or tofu for $2 more.

Orders are placed at the register and delivered to your table. Diners are encourage not to bus their table or tip. This hybrid-service model is popular at fast-casual spots such as Nando’s Peri Peri and Cosi, but Noodles & Co. wants to take it a step further.

Starting this spring, the company is to offer full table service after 4:30 p.m. at restaurants in Denver, Chicago and the Washington area. Customers must still place their initial order at the counter, but can request additional items from servers. Noodles & Co. tested the service in Denver, where sales climbed by 15 percent last year.

“Restaurants have identified an opportunity to sell more by getting you while you are at the table, and that could mean anything from a dessert to a beverage,” said Darren Tristano, executive vice president at Technomic, a research and consulting firm. He pointed out that Asian-inspired eatery Mama Fu’s in Austin also offers full service in the evening.

A soft sell

At Noodles & Co., president and chief executive Kevin Reddy said the evening service was the natural next step in providing customers “a higher level of service without giving anything up in terms of value, or price or time.”

“We’re not incentivizing [servers] to upsell,” he said. “They’re not getting compensated by trying to ring an extra dollar out of the guests. We are building sales through it, but in a very informal, friendly, non-intrusive way.”

All new restaurants, he said, are being designed with more seating, but are only a tad larger than the average 2,700-square-foot store. Reddy said the company improved upon the kitchen design to gain more space. He estimates it cost $675,000 to retrofit each new local eatery.

Reddy, a former chief operating officer at Chipotle Mexican Grill, has more than doubled Noodles & Co.’s restaurants to 284 in 19 states since joining the company in 2006. Sales at Noodles & Co. reached $300 million in 2011, a 15 percent increase over the prior year, according to Technomic.

Growth in the fast-casual niche has outpaced the restaurant industry as consumers gravitate to wallet-friendly meals. Tristano at Technomic said sales in the category jumped from $5 billion to $27 billion in the past 10 years, averaging 7 percent to 10 percent annual growth. Analysts expect revenue will keep pace this year as leaders like Chipotle and Five Guys continue expanding.

Dozens of fast-casual restaurants are in the works inside the Beltway. Homegrown Sweetgreen and New York-based Energy Kitchen recently inked deals for space at 1901 L St. NW. Local chain Z-Burger has staked out space in Columbia Heights and Clarendon, while Yo! Sushi has locations under way at Union Station and in Chinatown.

And that’s just the start. Restaurant broker Thomas N. Papadopoulos said six of his clients, including Bobby’s Burger Palace and burrito chain Boloco, are hunting for space. He estimates that demand for new sites is up more than 10 percent this year, compared with a year earlier.

Reddy is not surprised. Noodles & Co., he said, encountered stiff competition as it scoured the market for sites.

“Washington is such a vibrant area … if you can get the right deal, you know you’ll be successful,” Reddy said, which is why Noodles & Co. will continue searching for more locations to reach its goal of 100 restaurants in the region.

© The Washington Post Company

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