Flavor Trends, Strategies and Solutions for Menu Development

Best of FlavorTop 10 Trends

Promoting the Positive Commodity boards are a great resource to help bring out the best of menu items

An intriguing hue of green and a better-for-you profile from creamy avocado completes this panna cotta with mixed berry topping and chocolate cookie crumbles.
PHOTO CREDIT: nocredit

Honey simple syrup and rum bring a sweet touch to this Honey Bee-jito cocktail.
Commodity boards are perfect resources. No matter the food item, there’s a board that can provide data about food that goes beyond the obvious. Boards can report on consumer purchasing trends, favorite flavors, presentation ideas and more. Here are five examples of the kinds of information commodity boards can provide to help restaurants use food and beverage items in unique ways.

Sweet on Honey
There’s certainly a lot of buzz around alternative sweeteners. The National Honey Board’s (NHB) 2015 Consumer Sweetener Usage & Attitudes Study demonstrates consumers’ interest: Nearly seven out of 10 consumers look at the ingredient list to see what type of sweetener is in a product, and almost half (48 percent) look for labels indicating that a product contains honey (up from 35 percent just four years ago). At least half of respondents would pay more for products sweetened with honey. And consumers aged 18 to 44, with children and middle to high incomes, are more likely to pay a premium for products made with honey than their counterparts.

“Honey’s ideal for foodservice because it delivers impressive flavor and function, and is increasingly sought after as a wholesome, all-natural ingredient and alternative sweetener,” says Catherine Barry, NHB’s marketing director.

Chefs are exploring the many honey varietals that offer nuanced flavor differences and help position the menu item as premium. And whether it’s local honey or maybe a buckwheat honey, it plays pitch-perfect counterpart to today’s bold flavor trends. “Honey complements and balances a range of other tastes, including sour, salty and bitter,” says Barry. “In food, as well as beverage, it is that golden ingredient that brings a recipe and ingredients together.”

What’s more, honey is a natural humectant (helping to retain moisture in baked goods, for example); it’s an emulsifier (perfect thickening agent for sauces and dressings); it boasts a distinctive mouthfeel and pleasing texture; and it won’t spoil if stored properly.

“Honey continues to be at the sweet spot of flavor trends—such as the interest in sweet and heat—and is versatile enough to work across all dayparts, both sweet and savory ingredients, and all food and beverage applications,” says NHB’s Barry.

Honey is also creating quite a stir in the world of mixology. Technomic’s MenuMonitor data shows a 29 percent increase in honey mentions on adult beverage menus through the third quarter of 2014, and a 60 percent increase within the specialty drinks category. Mixologists are discovering how well different honey varietals can pair with different spirits.

“Honey is a great sweetener to use in cocktails not just for sweetness, but for depth,” says Kim Haasarud, founder of Liquid Architecture and mixologist for Omni Hotels & Resorts.

Using a range of honey varietals in cocktails enhances the distinctive nuances in spirits. For example, some honeys can mimic aromas and flavors from a barrel, making an un-aged spirit taste like it’s been aged. An alfalfa honey has grassy and herbaceous notes that play well with gin or silver tequila, says Haasarud. On the other hand, a wildflower honey has stronger notes of maple, caramel and vanilla that balance beautifully against a rum, bourbon or Scotch.

“Once you start exploring the vast varietals of honey, it’s like Pandora’s box. The combination of mixing them with spirits is endless,” adds Haasarud. Honeycomb is also a great ingredient to use in cocktails as a garnish. Honey crystals, honey powder, honey sticks and honey brittle make beautiful and tasty garnishes, too.

Featuring honey on menus may help increase sales. As an outgrowth of its 2014 Honey Beverage Summit, NHB collaborated with Omni Hotels to create the “One Sweet Summer” pool menu and promotion at Omni’s 34 pool resorts nationwide. Honey-inspired cocktails, such as Wildflower Honey Punch, and food items, such as Ale- and Honey-Braised Brats, are highlighted on the pool menu, while an in-room video highlights the story and inspiration behind the menu for guests.

David Morgan, vice president of food and beverage for Omni Hotels & Resorts, reports a 22 percent increase in poolside cocktail sales because of the promotion.
An intriguing hue of green and a better-for-you profile from creamy avocado completes this panna cotta with mixed berry topping and chocolate cookie crumbles.

An avocado a day
A recent study indicates that the messaging around avocado might need a shift from premium flavor to a link with wellness. Taste has historically been the top reason consumers say they purchase avocados—but this year, for the first time, “good for you” has surpassed taste as the top reason. “Research is proving more and more that avocados have a ton of nutrition and wellness-related reasons to consume them more regularly,” says Emiliano Escobedo, executive director of the Hass Avocado Board.
This may be an important shift in marketing and recipe development for restaurants—highlighting avocado in better-for-you builds and turning to avocado as a healthful but satisfying ingredient substitution. With avocado’s complexity in flavor and texture, possibilities are virtually endless. “In addition to standing alone as a satisfying meal or snack, when added to recipes, avocados are the foundation that binds ingredients and a vehicle that adds richness,” says Escobedo.

Fresh avocado can be used as a substitute for some or all of the called-for fat in certain applications. It vanishes into cake batter, for example, but brings a rich moistness while adding other desirable qualities such as reducing saturated fat and, in many cases when swapping for butter, making the recipe vegan-friendly. Though the result may vary slightly by recipe, it’s generally safe to assume a one-to-one substitution of avocado for butter. However, when substituting avocado for oil, it may be necessary to add another liquid to balance the recipe and thin out thicker batters or mixes.

The substitution of avocado in baked goods helps increase their nutritional value by contributing nearly 20 vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. In addition, more than 75 percent of the fat in avocados is unsaturated (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats), making them a great substitute for foods or ingredients high in saturated fat. Avocados contain high water content, so they can also make treats softer, chewier and less likely to crumble. Also, light-colored baked goods may take on a pretty green hue from the avocado.

Avocados are considered a healthy substitute for mayonnaise, too. The avocado’s creamy texture adds a moistness in application that goes beyond mayonnaise: The pleasant mouthfeel, healthy oils and added bulk (or heartiness) make it a satisfying addition to recipes.

In liquid applications, such as soups and smoothies, fresh avocado brings silky-rich texture and becomes an inherent part of the structure of the dish rather than a garnish.

Sensory Spectrum conducted qualitative research with consumers who reported the distinctive flavor of a plain, ripe avocado as “smooth; even and consistent throughout, with no sharp or spiky notes.” When used in applications, the avocado serves as an integrator that plays well with other ingredients to round out the overall flavor of dishes. The avocado tempers the sharpness of the onion in guacamole, for example, creating a blended experience that is described as “smoothing the rest of the flavors.”

Milk makes its move
Cheeses such as Cotija, panela and queso fresco, as well as cremas, point to the expanding world of dairy. “One of the biggest surprises for operators may be the diversity and application of the Hispanic-style dairy category,” says Jennifer Giambroni, director of communications at the California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB). These products are tremendously affordable, offer an easy way to add authenticity to Latin dishes, and can be traded out for more traditional dairy selections in other menu items. They also can offer surprising functionality. Whipped crema, for example, holds up much longer than whipped cream.

There’s a continued love affair with cheese overall—as a component to a build or as part of a cheese or charcuterie plate. The growing interest in gourmet and artisan cheeses will help sustain future growth of the category, which also bodes well for operators—37 percent of Americans agree that artisan cheese brands are worth paying more for, according to Mintel.

CMAB is seeing creative menuing using a variety of dairy products as ingredients—from cheese-based ice creams (cream cheese, Cotija, blue cheese) to yogurt sauces to booze-laden customizable milkshakes. A few standalone categories exist, too. Butter, for example, is back, not only in consumer kitchens but in compound or infused butters (nori, lobster and smoked pear are a few examples) and dipping sauces.

Prosciutto and Asiago rice cakes are a perfect shareable or bar bite menu item.

Turkey versatility
Turkey is viewed as a better-for-you, leaner protein. The challenge for operators is making it stand out with flavor and distinction. “Executive chefs and menu planners tell us they like cuts that are easier to work with and that have the ability to be consistently prepared by their line chefs,” says Keith Williams, vice president of communications and marketing for the National Turkey Federation (NTF). “They want something that refreshes the recipes for meals that patrons are comfortable with by inspiring new combinations and trendy ingredients.” A good example here is Arby’s Turkey Gyro LTO, featuring a soft pita filled with roast turkey, lettuce, onion, tomatoes, tzatziki sauce and gyro seasoning.

NTF works with chefs at nationally known foodservice venues who are turning to turkey for variety of meat cuts and right-sized portions. Turkey serves as a lean, healthy choice that meets customers’ quest for flavor adventure and diet objectives.

The board suggests that operators “serve up something unexpected” with today’s turkey. It’s the variety of turkey cuts with lean and flavorful qualities that delights and surprises diners whenever they taste moist dark meat, sample turkey bacon, and savor sweet and smoky ground turkey burgers. Turkey meat’s adaptability to soups, appetizers, breakfast and center-of-the-plate dinners—roasted, grilled or baked—makes it a versatile protein.

According to Technomic’s “Turkey Menu Trends & Insights” (April 2015), trends showing most noticeably are with breakfast, with turkey sausage up 25 percent as an add-on while turkey bacon is up 2.6 percent overall and up 17 percent as an add-on.

Technomic also reported the following turkey menu items from around the country: RaceTrac rolled out its Southwest Turkey Ciabatta Sandwich, which features smoked turkey, pepper Jack cheese, caramelized onions, lettuce and chipotle mayonnaise on a fresh-baked ciabatta bun; and a Turkey Club Pretzel Sandwich, which features bacon, turkey and basil mayonnaise on a soft pretzel bun.

Crispers introduced a Turkey Cran-Apple Salad with spinach, turkey, Gala apples, dried cranberries, mozzarella cheese, green onions, croutons and cranberry dressing. Tedeschi Food Shops announced a Blackened Turkey Pepper Sandwich as its sandwich of the month, and offered a Bold Blackened Turkey Caesar Wrap for a limited time. Meanwhile, Mooyah introduced the Jalapeño Jack Turkey Burger, customizable with a range of buns, cheeses, toppings and sauces.

All-American Rice
“Consumers have a growing interest in knowing where their food comes from and in reducing food miles as much as possible,” says Katie Maher, manager of domestic promotion programs for USA Rice Federation.

Eighty-five percent of all the rice consumed in this country is grown here—in Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Texas. And with 81 percent of consumers reporting that it’s “very or somewhat important” that meals they eat in restaurants be prepared with ingredients grown in the United States—rice is there for them. Fifty-six percent also say they would “probably” or “definitely” pay more for a meal prepared with U.S.-sourced ingredients, as reported in the April 2015 Food Monitor (Princeton: Multi-Sponsor Surveys, 2015).

A majority of those surveyed also prefer U.S.-grown food to feel they’re supporting the economy and because they have greater confidence in the safety and security of the U.S. food supply, according to USA Rice Federation consumer focus groups (May 2014).

During the past four years, brown rice has seen a 28 percent menu growth, indicating that consumers are looking for more whole grain menu options, and they’re turning to rice as a healthful choice. Additionally, the growing interest in eating gluten-free is helping fuel a rise in opportunities for rice on the menu.

“Today’s consumers want feel-good food, and they can definitely feel good about U.S.-grown rice,” says Maher.

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