Like all good commodity boards, the U.S. Potato Board is ready to advise operators on how to market innovative and healthful menu items, such as this pickled vegetable potato salad. Photo courtesy of u.s. potato board. Ten things you might not know about what commodity boards can do for you
By Victoria Scanlan Stefanakos
Restaurant operators are plate spinners: On one hand, you design menus that feature the ingredients your customers crave. Those ingredients — and how you prepare and menu them — must make your restaurants a profit. On the other hand, you strive to feature foods that you’re inspired to work with, foods that also nourish the customers you’re serving and meet their quest for on-trend flavor experiences. Take your eyes off the plates for a moment and they can come crashing down in a hurry.
Fortunately, you have partners who can help you manage this balancing act. And though you may think you know plenty about commodity boards, we bet there are a few things that may surprise you about the support they offer the foodservice industry.
1. They’re brilliant marketing partners
Depending on their size, the scope of their products, and their budget, each commodity board meets its stated goals in different ways. All of them aim to help you use their products. Boards offer free marketing services and will often share the cost of co-marketing a menu item or special program that features their product.
“A majority of operators don’t take advantage of the amazing resources (most of them free!) offered by commodity organizations. By mandate, if the commodity board has a marketing program, the information is a public service, and it is distributed for free to the end user. That includes merchandising materials like flyers, product information brochures, recipes or technique videos. All boards are eager to know how operators use their product, and many offer free publicity in exchange. The California Avocado Commission, for example, has an active menu promotion program for chain operators. This year, 25 chains received marketing funds in exchange for promoting Fresh California Avocado menu items and featuring the “Hand Grown in California” logo. The commission also markets these promotions to loyal California Avocado fans through a robust social media program.”
California Avocado Commission, Idaho Potato Commission and the Pacific Northwest Canned Pear Service
“Commodity boards such as the California Table Grape Commission want to help you use their products with success, and many of us have the resources to help with custom ideation and menu development. If you’ve developed a great application with a commodity board’s product, let them know so they can help publicize the item and your restaurant with photography, press releases and more.”
California Table Grape Commission
2. They love matchmaking
Pairing operators with producers and growers is a favorite role of commodity boards.
“Boards like Louisiana Seafood can connect restaurants directly with suppliers based on the products they are looking for and also have free point-of-sale materials to help them promote to consumers that they serve Louisiana seafood. We have two sites, buy.louisianaseafood.com and sell.louisianaseafood.com. The ‘sell’ site is what our industry logs into to check restaurant leads. We just surveyed chefs across the country about how they use the sites: When asked how the ‘buy’ site had changed their buying habits, 60 percent of respondents either added a Louisiana seafood item to their menu or replaced other seafood with Louisiana seafood.”
Louisiana Seafood Promotion & Marketing Board
“We’re matchmakers. We help foodservice folks find the right source. Our job is to promote 100 percent California dairy products. The California Milk Advisory Board is commodity and specialty, which means both milk and milk products, such as butter, yogurt, ice cream and cheese. Because we’re not tied into one specific distributor or processor, if you’re looking to add a variety of cheese or a new flavor of frozen yogurt, we can tell you who can supply it for you. We recently helped a quick-serve chain find a cheese supplier. The operator was looking for a specific size slice of all-natural cheese. The volume guys don’t want to do it because the order wasn’t big enough, so we helped them figure out how much volume they needed and were able to find them a mid-size cheesemaker from California. We’re all about marrying foodservice folks. And it’s all free.”
California Milk Advisory Board
“If you’ve developed a great application with a commodity board’s product, let them know so they can help publicize the item,” advises Courtney Romano of The California Table Grape Commission. Photo courtesy of california table grape commission.
3. They help you tell the story behind the food
Board representatives spend plenty of time in the fields and farms, gathering the stories of the producers they represent. They want you to know your producers personally, so you can pass those stories on to your customers.
“While many operators may know that commodity boards can be great resources for product information, they may not see them as sources of great storytelling. Since boards are a collective of farmers and ranchers behind the products we eat, they can help operators market their menu items by connecting them to the fields and pastures where they began. They can even bring those connections to life with pictures, video and, in some cases, real-life farmers. Noodles & Company, for example, just did a video in the asparagus fields to launch their new LTOs. Boards have access to the fields and farmers, and, in many cases, already have high-quality stock footage and interviews ready to go.”
“The California Strawberry Commission creates unique culinary tours to educate chefs and menu developers about our amazing farmers — who lead the world in sustainable farming practices and grow more organic and conventional strawberries than anywhere else in the world — and to inspire the next generation of innovative strawberry menu concepts.”
California Strawberry Commission
4. Research is their bread and butter
Commodity boards’ research ranges from basic information about new and unusual products, how to use them cost-effectively, and what consumers think about the product.
“Operators are pleased and surprised when they find out about the variety of resources and research available at mango.org/foodservice — handling information, varieties, availability, selection, ripening, storage, yield research and cutting how-to. We have historical crop info and current season projections, as well as supplier contacts. And we share consumer, crop and nutrition research and messaging. The National Mango Board makes the USDA-approved mango nutrition messages available to any operators who’d like backup for their claims.”
National Mango Board
“The Almond Board of California takes a research-based approach to all aspects of almond marketing, farming and production. It works with its market research agency and renowned chefs to spot, illustrate and expand on the hottest foodservice trends that relate to almonds. Gaining insights on consumer and industry trends allows the Almond Board to develop inventive recipes that can help inspire and meet the needs of chefs today. For example, recipes available on the Food Industry section of almondboard.com feature innovative concepts that can be utilized across dayparts. ABC also offers free informational webinars and technical information on working with different forms and functions of almonds.”
Lianne Di Ubaldi
Almond Board of California
5. They study trends
Trends are a big driver in menu innovations, and it’s helpful to know that boards are a reliable source for identifying industry and consumer trends.
“Commodity boards spend a good deal of their time and resources understanding how consumers feel about and act on their products, and they are happy to share it with operators. The consumer data can help operators evaluate menu items and determine whether or not an item is a good match with their concept and customer base.”
“Everything we do is based upon research that is tried and true. Partnering with Nielsen, National Eating Trends, the USDA and universities, we do research every year about attitudes and eating trends. We spend tens of thousands of dollars so we can spot trends, which have a cumulative effect. We see a lot of those trends first featured on menus.”
U.S. Potato Board
6. They’re poised to help—on deadline
Commodity boards can be quite nimble and able to capitalize on tactical opportunities. Don’t let a tight timeframe deter you from reaching out to a potential partner.
“Not only are commodity boards interested in product menuing, but they may have additional resources to help promote your commodity-inspired new menu items or LTOs, in collaboration with your marketing team. Last fall, the National Honey Board partnered with BJ’s Restaurants to co-promote BJ’s Small Bites campaign, highlighting a honey-inspired salad, among other small plates. After an initial conference call, within a week’s time, in-store signage was ready for print, featuring the NHB’s “Honey One” logo. What’s more, a multi-faceted social media campaign was set for implementation. BJ’s and the NHB quickly seized a partnership opportunity that netted a win-win.”
National Honey Board
7. They’re research-driven nutrition experts
Looking for options to optimize the healthful qualities in a menu item? Or aiming to offer new better-for-you menu selections? Commodity boards’ nutrition expertise is based on years of research and has their brand to stand behind it.
“Every commodity board has a different budget — and a different set of priorities. The Almond Board, for example, spent 10 years researching the nutritional benefits of almonds as related to specific health issues — everything from heart disease and satiety to weight control. The Dried Plum Board has also invested heavily into research on digestive health, bone health and satiety.”
J. M. Degen & Company
“The United Soybean Board (USB) recognizes that healthier menu items are in demand. The industry’s latest innovation is high-oleic soybean oils. These trait-enhanced oils offer operators high-heat stability without adding saturated fat to prepared foods. Typical foodservice frying oils contain a blend of liquid (unsaturated) and solid (saturated) fats in order to create the durability needed for high-heat applications like frying. Because of their fatty acid composition, the oils have the stability and durability demanded by the foodservice industry without the need to blend in solid (saturated) fat. USB provides samples of high-oleic soybean oils for testing and menu development so operators can serve fried foods that offer improved nutrition profiles.”
United Soybean Board
“We’re in the midst of a multi-year nutrition study of potatoes and their role in modified diets, called The Diabetes Study. No one eats potatoes in isolation: You’re always adding something, and all of those things serve to lower the glycemic index of the food. On an annual basis, we also refresh our Potato Nutrition Handbook, which is a compilation of all of the research available on potatoes. Our well-researched claims and our messaging have earned us an excellent reputation in the nutrition research community over the past 40 years.”
U.S. Potato Board
The Chilean Fresh Fruit Association stands by to guide operators on the seasonality of fruits from Chile, as well as promotional ideas and culinary support. Photo courtesy of chilean fresh fruit association. 8. They’re eager to help with menu development
Think of commodity boards as pro-bono menu developers. If you aim to add grapes or artisanal cheese, almonds or black rice to a menu, for instance, they can suggest ways to include it — and describe it on your menu.
“Commodity boards such as USA Rice are uniquely placed to specifically think about one ingredient and how it helps shape a menu. As a result, USA Rice is able to provide chefs and operators with rice recipes and menu solutions 24/7 at menurice.com. We also keep chefs informed about innovations in rice, such as a new website feature about recently-introduced whole-grain rice products.”
USA Rice Federation
“Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board (WMMB) values having trained culinary professionals on our staff for both educational assistance as well as foodservice interaction. Our culinary training gives us the tools to be a valuable resource for menu ideation and development. Our technical training and background also make WMMB an excellent educational resource; we understand cheese characteristics and performance and how they impact very specific menu applications. For example, we could help an operator decide which cheeses will perform best on a particular pizza concept. Cheese varieties perform very differently at the high temperatures associated with pizza ovens; depending on the desired flavor profile, we can recommend cheeses that meet the operator’s needs for cheese melt and stretch, level of browning and oiling off.”
Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board
9. They offer free education and training
Training is critical to any well-run restaurant operation. Free training is even better. Commodity boards are happy to share skills and expertise.
“The National Pork Board offers a wide array of educational information for chefs and foodservice operators on porkfoodservice.org, from butchering demo videos to cooking techniques and more. We also share useful and timely educational and trends information each month in our e-newsletter, ‘The 400.’”
National Pork Board
“Commodity boards like the US Dry Pea & Lentil Council offer a wealth of resources to operators, including free webinars and culinary courses. Additionally, we provide on-site support and guidance on how to utilize pulses. We’ve tailored culinary concepts to several of the Top 200 chains based on their needs. For instance, if a company is looking to add gluten-free items, we can show several concepts including soups, salads, pastas and breads. We take into account their target customer and work with them to create healthy and flavorful menu items. Some unique applications include using pulse flour in pizza dough to increase protein and fiber, gluten-free red lentil pasta, roasted yellow peas as a salad topper and even a chickpea flour horchata.”
US Dry Pea & Lentil Council
“As more and more chefs are looking for connections to who’s grazing and where, whether they want kosher or organic or natural lamb, we tell them how to use it. But producers won’t just sell you the rack; they sell you the whole lamb. So more and more chefs are learning how to butcher them — to go beyond the rack and the center of the plate. In some cases, producers are training us. Others are asking us to train them. We’re working with more and more butchers and sharing what we know by training chefs how to butcher well, too.”
American Lamb Board
10. Boards can help boost menu profitability
Commodity boards can help you find ways to use their products so you can earn higher profits on dishes that sell.
“While many operators know us for our innovative beef recipes and menu inspirations, we also have a team of in-house research analysts who consult with operators to answer their specific questions around beef pricing, supply, tenderness and cut yields. Our industry insights on procurement and menu intelligence can help our foodservice partners better manage costs and boost their menu profitability with beef. For example, we’re currently encouraging operators to add braised beef dishes to their menus to boost their margins in two ways: First, slow cooking cuts, like beef country-style ribs, are more economical. And braising is a hands-off preparation method, which means less time and attention needed from your team.”
National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, contractor for the Beef Checkoff Program