Flavor Trends, Strategies and Solutions for Menu Development

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Menu-Ready Partnerships Collaboration, logistics and promotionlead to successful menu strategies

With the help of the National Pork Board, Famous Dave’s rolled out its Buffalo’d Bones, a new small plate of bite-sized, center-cut ribs.
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With the help of the National Pork Board, Famous Dave’s rolled out its Buffalo’d Bones, a new small plate of bite-sized, center-cut ribs. Commodity boards play a constructive role in helping foodservice operators strengthen their brand and concept. Partnerships range from marketing research, culinary immersion, menu ideation, promotion of new strategic menu items and other key touchpoints to support the foodservice industry.

“I think most boards would agree that it’s about establishing a relationship with the operator that’s built upon trust and a sincere desire to help them be successful in their businesses,” says Jim Murray, national foodservice marketing manager for the National Pork Board (NPB). “Once this partnership is formed, you then can provide inspiration, education and logistical support to bring new ideas to life and to the menu.”

Research & Development

It’s not so much that the NPB goes to Charlie Torgerson, senior director of culinary and executive chef at Famous Dave’s, to tell him how to cook pork. He’s been cooking barbecued pork for the past 25 years. It’s more the case that Torgerson goes to NPB with an idea and asks for help in bringing it to fruition. “What NPB brings to the table is inspiration in developing new items,” he says.

Earlier this year, he went to NPB with the idea of a small-plate item that included center-cut spare ribs, but he wasn’t sure what exactly to do with them and how to present them. He not only sought help in developing a new menu item, but wanted NPB to formulate ideas on how to build customer awareness through placement in magazines, being listed in the newsletter Pork 400 and other digital and media placements.

NPB’s Murray has partnered with Torgerson for the past eight years in providing education, doing research and helping with promotion of new menu items. Some of the teamwork occurs during road trips to different regions of the country, where they carry out culinary immersions to see how others are cooking barbecue and presenting pork.

During a trip to San Marcos, Texas, in March 2014 for the National Barbecue Association Conference, they visited a restaurant serving miniature cut wild boar ribs as an appetizer, which became the inspiration for an item on Famous Dave’s small-plates program. Famous Dave’s Buffalo’d Bones—bite-sized, center-cut St. Louis-style ribs tossed in Buffalo sauce—were born right then and there.

After testing in one store with a positive customer response, Buffalo’d Bones was rolled out nationwide this past spring. “Not only do I rely on NPB for research and development, but they’re valuable to Famous Dave’s from a safety perspective, by keeping us up to date on the health and outlook of the pork industry,” Torgerson says. “They have science and technical teams composed of veterinarians and specialists in pork production, sustainability, pork health and economics related to the meat industry that can supply information that Famous Dave’s does not generate on its own.”

NPB also helps with procurement when Famous Dave’s is developing an item that requires a cut of pork its supplier doesn’t offer.

Darden shares the stories behind the fish they offer. This wild Alaskan halibut is caught sustainably and served with spring vegetables, succotash, chorizo and romesco sauce.

Marketing Support

Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) started working with Darden Restaurants about seven years ago and has supported them on various projects across their brands. “The primary benefit for the operator to partner with a commodity board is to build their brand by borrowing our brand,” says Jann Dickerson, national account consultant for ASMI. “And it helps build our brand by having our product on their menu.”

This past March, ASMI helped Darden’s Seasons 52 on a wild Alaska halibut entrée on its spring LTO menu to showcase Alaska and its sustainable seafood. “The biggest benefit of our ASMI partnership is that the quality of fish we’ve been able to bring our guests is second to none,” says Jim Messinger, vice president/corporate executive chef at Darden Restaurants. “To be able to say, ‘I know who caught this fish and how’ is special, and something we’re thrilled to be able to share.”

Seasons 52 had already found a supplier and developed the menu item prior to contacting ASMI, but they called on ASMI for marketing and promotion ideas, photography, copy points and to put them in touch with the halibut fishermen. “Seasons 52 had a desire to talk about where the seafood comes from, with a goal of telling a story to their customers,” Dickerson says. “We connected them with the fishermen to get that story.”

This was a win for Messinger, as Seasons 52’s culinary and marketing teams learned about the fishing process, the quality of the fish and the fishermen’s passion—all of which gets passed along to guests. “We communicate directly with our fisherman, suppliers and ASMI to understand more about the product, where it comes from and how it’s sourced,” he says. “We use this information to educate and train all levels of our team.”

Seasons 52 also wanted to include the ASMI logo with the halibut entrée, and found that ASMI’s tagline “Wild, Natural & Sustainable” resonated with guests and determined it would help build brand identity for Seasons 52 and Alaska’s sustainable seafood. “We’ve enjoyed sharing these stories with our guests in the restaurant, on our website, through social media and in our e-newsletter.”

A partnership with Meat & Livestock Australia led to Black Angus Steakhouse’s Australian rack of lamb marinated with fresh chopped garlic, rosemary and proprietary seasonings.

Education Matters

A large part of Meat & Livestock Australia’s (MLA) mandate is to provide relevant information about Australian lamb and grassfed beef to the foodservice industry. The board wants to work with operators to help them best cook the products and menu them successfully. MLA’s sustainability initiatives and the natural attributes of Australian grassfed beef and lamb are also an important element for their restaurant partners.

Inspiration is yet another component commodity boards bring to the table. Since MLA works with the product on a daily basis, the board can readily present new ideas on how to utilize the product and tailor it for an operation’s needs, says Catherine Golding, MLA’s business development manager.

MLA proposed to California-based Black Angus Steakhouse—with 45 locations in six states—that they include Australian rack of lamb on the menu. The timing was perfect, because David Bolosan, Black Angus’ director of product innovation, was contemplating adding rack of lamb to the menu. He had not tasted or worked with Australian lamb for almost 15 years, so he was open to trying something new.

The initial meetings focused on education: where the products come from, how the lamb is raised and butchered, and other attributes. “It’s important that people first understand the product and get background information. It helps in their decision-making process,” Golding says.

MLA’s corporate chef—Adam Moore of Charlie Baggs Culinary Innovations—helped Black Angus with menu ideation. “It was not so much about educating me about rack of lamb, but it was more about showing me what is available and presenting new ideas and concepts. Working with MLA got my creative juices flowing,” Bolosan says.

“The ‘A-ha!’ moment for me was simply tasting the lamb. I was very satisfied with its taste. To me, the flavor had improved from when I last tasted it, 15 years ago.”

Black Angus ran a test in three stores, which proved to be a success with customers, and decided to include the rack as a spring LTO chain-wide, starting on Easter weekend and running for about four months.

“The way you know if the partnership was successful is if the menu item they proposed and helped develop was a hit with customers,” Bolosan says. “Our customers loved the rack of lamb LTO, so we knew we had a winner. So much so, that we ran it again.”

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