Flavor Trends, Strategies and Solutions for Menu Development

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Partnership Power Together, commodity boards and chefs maximize ingredients’ potential

Knowing what types of cheese work best with what application, Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board helps develop such items as these Caramelized Leek and Wisconsin Fontina Tarts.
PHOTO CREDIT: Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board

When two separate groups happen to have an affinity for selling the same ingredient, partnering can lead to an influx of resources, and in the end, exceptionally successful menu items. We talked with commodity boards and their foodservice partners to learn more about the secrets to a successful partnership.

Wisconsin Says Cheese
“Wisconsin has the fourth largest milkshed in the world,” says Allen Hendricks, VP of foodservice and education for Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board (WMMB). He helps foodservice operations make the most of Wisconsin cheese. WMMB empowers menu development in myriad ways, from keeping up with consumer cheese trends, to finding sources for up-and-coming styles of cheese, to sharing expertise on which cheeses are finding success in which segments.

WMMB’s market research department helps foodservice operators gauge the likely success of cheese-related menu developments. “If a restaurant group was considering putting cheese curds on their menu, we would have information on where they’re occurring, what types of restaurants, what parts of the menu, and how they’re being featured or mentioned,” says Hendricks.

WMMB also offers financial power when foodservice operations are marketing items featuring Wisconsin cheese. Toppers, a growing Wisconsin-based pizza concept, received funding from WMMB for a recent Triple Topperstix promotion (add Triple Topperstix to any pizza order for just $7.99). The promotion materials included the Wisconsin cheese logo and the descriptor “Made with Wisconsin cheese.”

Toppers and WMMB also worked together to co-branded Wisconsin cheese and four pizza flavors by combining marketing dollars and including the Wisconsin cheese logo on promotional materials for: Three Little Pigs (mozzarella and three types of pork), Loaded Tot-zza (tater tots and nacho cheese), El Cubano (pulled pork and pickles) and Mac ’N Cheese (mac-and-cheese-topped pizza). Promotional materials include poster boards, box toppers, mailers and more.

For further support, WMMB provides a free online search tool (wisconsincheesefoodservice.com) to help foodservice professionals learn about and source more than 600 styles and types of Wisconsin cheese. Here, you’ll find Wisconsin cheeses there you might not expect, like jibneh Arabieh, juustoleipa, morski and panela. Select a cheese and hit “search” to get source contact information.

Show Me the Honey
Last year, the National Honey Board invited Neil Doherty, senior director of culinary development at Sysco, to attend the Honey Summit at the Culinary Institute of America in San Antonio, Texas. He says he had a “wonderfully educational time tasting and cooking with different honey varietals and mead.” After the summit, he was planning a promotion to encourage his chefs to develop recipes using certain cuts of pork (ribeye, flat iron, brisket and strip steak), and it occurred to him to add honey to the promotion. “National Honey Month is September and National Pork Month is October, so we felt it was a great combo to launch Hogs ’n Honey,” he says.

The Hogs ’n Honey culinary competition, designed to inspire Sysco chefs to leverage pork and honey in winning recipes, drew more than 125 entries. Four semifinalists were selected based on recipe palatability, usability in a foodservice setting, and overall visual appeal. Brian O’Leary from Sysco Boston got attention for his Root Beer Pulled Pork and Honey-Onion Jam Popover. Sysco Minnesota’s Noah Barton tantalized judges with his Honey-Braised Pork Cheek Empanadas with Wild Honey Chimichurri. Arthur Presti of Sysco Eastern Wisconsin proved stiff competition with his Honey-Braised Pork Hock with Southern Corn and Potato Chowder. Luigi Tripodi of Sysco Metro NY surprised audiences by shaping pulled pork and corn grits into “fries,” deep frying them, and serving them with buckwheat honey ketchup. In February, the four semifinalists competed in a cook-off at the CIA’s  Greystone campus for top honors in three categories: Best use of pork, best use of honey, and best use of honey and pork together. After some deliberation, the winners were announced: Barton’s empanadas won “best use of pork and honey;” the “best use of pork” went to O’Leary for his creative pork-honey popovers and Tripodi’s pork french fries with honey ketchup took the “best use of honey” award. Presti’s Pork Hock & Honey Glaze earned him a finalist/runner-up award.

Chefs working with the National Honey Board are often interested to learn that there are more than 300 different honey varietals available in the United States, each with its own unique flavor and color, depending on the floral source visited by the honey bees. Catherine Barry, director of marketing at the National Honey Board, explains: “There are lighter colored honeys with milder flavors such as tupelo or orange blossom. On the other end of the spectrum, you have buckwheat honey, which is dark. We compare it to molasses. Then you have others such as avocado honey. It’s very buttery, and is really great in baking and desserts, and in pan sauces and glazes.”

Chefs can visit www.honeylocator.com to learn about honey varietals, the plants they’re derived from, preferred environments, flavor profile descriptions and suppliers.

Farm-Fresh Turkey
Ohio Poultry Association member Jim Chakeres nominated this year’s winner of the National Turkey Federation’s T.O.M. Award. Kimmon Williams, marketing director for the National Turkey Federation, describes how the award works. “Our members nominate restaurants for having turkey items on the menu and for being involved in the community.”

Chakeres shined praise on City Barbeque’s great turkey, turkey marketing and community service. “They work regularly with nonprofit groups, local school athletics, charities, etc., to raise money for their cause while sharing the love of barbecue. Nonprofit groups are encouraged to pick a day and invite friends, family, neighbors and associates to their favorite City Barbeque location. City Barbeque donates 25 percent of the sales of the day to the local charity.” In addition, City Barbeque works with Food Rescue to freeze leftover product for families in need.

The nomination also celebrated City Barbeque’s 17,000 Facebook likes and 3,000 Twitter followers, as well as how City Barbeque uses these social media platforms to inspire audiences to eat great barbecue, donate to local charities and taste some delicious turkey at its 20-plus locations throughout Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky.

Rick Malir, lead pit boss and president of City Barbeque, Inc., shares why the turkey at his restaurants is so good. “It starts with where it comes from. Cooper Farms is one of the farms we work with. They’re in northwest Ohio, and we’ve been working with them nearly 13 years, and they provide a terrific product,” he says. “They are very meticulous and caring in how they humanely raise their turkeys. It’s a terrific operation—it’s clean, and the main thing is that the turkeys are treated well. That means a better turkey for us.”

“We’re bringing that in raw like your grandma would have done. Nothing is pre-processed—it’s all-natural turkey breast,” he says. “Then we put our seasonings on it, and we smoke it to our specifications in our restaurant.” On the menu, this turkey stars in a smoked turkey breast sandwich, hand sliced and served hot. The smoked turkey also sits alongside brisket, pork and sausage in the City Sampler and the City Sandwich Sampler—a trio of mini sandwiches.

“We also buy whole turkeys from Bowman Landes, and we do those for the holidays. I take my hat off to both those farms for being great providers and helping us succeed,” adds Malir.

Avocados Mexicanos
Chef Andy Wittman is always looking for new flavors to keep Texas-based Pie Five Pizza Co.’s pizza and salad menu fresh. He saw signs of avocados trending in consumer taste, and he liked that avocados were known as a healthy food. Could he put avocados on pizza? Christina Coy, Pie Five’s director of marketing, admits that her first reaction was disbelief. “Our immediate response was ‘It’s going to burn; it’s going to melt.’”

But once chef Wittman handcrafted a pizza for the team with natural chicken breast, fresh Hass avocados, diced Roma tomatoes and sliced onions atop a blend of hand-grated mozzarella and provolone cheeses and drizzled with crème fraîche, Coy changed her mind. “It looked good and tasted amazing,” she says.

Once the purchasing and marketing teams were on board, chef Wittman asked if anyone in the company had a connection with Avocados From Mexico (AFM). Someone in the marketing department reached out, asking if the organization would be interested in collaborating on a limited time offer. “They were so cooperative and open to anything,” says Coy. Pie Five proposed an advertising campaign including the AFM logo for the Chicken Awesome-Cado pie. AFM signed off and helped fund the advertising, allowing Pie Five to expand the promotion’s reach beyond in-store marketing to radio and digital ads.

The Chicken Awesome-Cado pie was the second-highest selling LTO pizza in company history. In addition to looking at the volume of raw sales, Coy reflects on another factor of success. “We got quite a bit of PR about this product, locally and nationally because of the newness of avocado on a pizza.” AFM helped shape this success, too, by reaching out to media contacts. Coy says of the partnership: “They’ve given a lot to the brand with this partnership and hopefully we’ve been able to give back to them what they’ve given to us—brand awareness and customer loyalty.”

Laura Slavec, marketing director for AFM agrees. “Many customers had never had fresh avocado on pizza before and paid the little extra to try it—and loved it. It’s a great way to show people new, delicious ways to eat fresh avocados.” On behalf of AFM, Slavec appreciates the win-win aspect of working together with operators. “To us, success means driving additional sales and traffic to the restaurant operation, while garnering positive feedback from guests.”

Looking back at the success, Coy summarizes the power of partnerships: “Partnerships are strength in numbers. Whether it’s with a food group or any partnership, you have help.”


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