Flavor Trends, Strategies and Solutions for Menu Development

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Translating Trends Commodity boards help translate consumer research data into menu growth opportunities

Chickpeas, lentils and other pulses are becoming menu stars, showcasing their broad versatility. Here, a chickpea lettuce wrap is a tasty and healthful option.

Looking for data on optimizing the healthful qualities in a menu item? Or seeking the most popular global flavors to enhance a basic side dish? Commodity boards maintain a wealth of carefully curated research on everything from nutrition to trend-tracking to consumer dining habits, and they can point out growth opportunities you might otherwise miss.

Pulses for Protein
At no other time has nutrition and living a healthier lifestyle received so much widespread attention. Today’s diners are more aware of the nutritional value of their food, and they’re on the lookout for nutrient-dense ingredients to get the most bang for their buck—hence the rise of such superfoods as kale, quinoa and Greek yogurt.

Pulses, which include peas, lentils and chickpeas, are a fantastic source of high-quality plant protein, and they help chefs meet the growing demand for gluten-free, low-allergen or vegetarian meals without resorting to highly processed protein or fiber additives. But they are only beginning to scratch some of their real menu potential. That’s where the USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council comes in to assist with nutrition research and menu ideas.

“As consumer tastes have shifted and global food trends have become more prominent in everyday cuisine, pulses and their factions have emerged as a culinary star,” says MacKenzie Femreite, food marketing manager for the USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council. “Until recently, foodservice operators and consumers looked at pulses as a one-trick pony—basically a soup staple—but today’s chefs are realizing that pulses can be used in anything from desserts to main courses and even bar snacks and beverages.”

According to the council, hummus sales now top $350 million a year from a previously $5 million industry in the mid-1990s. Recent double-digit annual growth shows no signs of slowing. This soaring domestic demand explains why only 40 percent of the chickpeas grown in the United States are now exported, compared with 90 percent just 10 years ago.

Other legumes—such as black beans, lima beans and red lentils—can be utilized in hummus preparations with a variety of global spice blends in order to stretch the flavor options even further.

Look beyond appetizers for other ways to use hummus on the menu. For example, Dat Dog in New Orleans recently offered a “Culture Shock” hot dog—duck sausage with hummus, tomatoes, onion and parsley, topped with a special cumin and turmeric mayonnaise.

“As more and more consumers seek protein alternatives aside from soy, chickpeas and lentils are finding their way into more exotic menu items, ranging from samosas to wontons,” says Femreite. At Chicago’s Belly Q restaurant, chef Bill Kim has been experimenting with a number of unique applications, including Hot & Sour Lentil Soup Shooters, Split Pea Cakes with Goat Milk Feta and Belly Fire Hot Sauce, as well as a Chickpea Lemon Grass Patty Melt.

According to Femreite, there are many opportunities to experiment by adding pea proteins and purées to breakfast smoothies and juices for that extra protein boost.

Most Important Meal
The American Egg Board (AEB) gathers data and information from many of the leading research companies in order to keep operators knowledgeable about their favorite daypart—breakfast. The board regularly publishes these findings on the AEB website to help operators generate ideas for successful breakfast menus.

For starters, according to Mintel, 35 percent of consumers would like to see foodservice operators serve breakfast throughout the day. Despite the operational issues, consumer interest has driven some QSR chains to serve breakfast all day, including Dunkin’ Donuts, Sonic and Jack in the Box.

“The growing tendency for consumers to want to order what they want, when they want it, has led to daypart blurring,” says John Howeth, senior vice president of foodservice and egg product marketing at the American Egg Board. “Add to that an increasing interest in higher protein meals, and egg-topped burgers, salads and sides are a natural throughout the day. It’s creative, it’s delicious, and it’s a win for consumers and operators alike.”

The American Egg Board also flagged the National Restaurant Association’s annual survey of American Culinary Federation chefs, which found that ethnic-inspired breakfast items were among the top 20 “hot” food trends at U.S. restaurants for the second year in a row. Among ethnic cuisines, Latin topped the list, followed by Korean, then Southeast Asian.

Eggs are flexible and can be used in a variety of preparations across these cuisines, from comfortable to creative. Some menu examples provided by the AEB are:

  • Tokyo Ome-Rice: An omelette with tomato, green pepper, onion, mushroom, broccoli and chicken breast, sided with teriyaki glaze and garlic fried rice — Uncle Mike’s Place, Chicago
  • Border Benedict: Green chile-cheddar corn cakes topped with chorizo, two poached eggs, queso fundido, pico de gallo, sour cream, green onions and avocado — Wild Eggs, Louisville, Ky.
  • Western Egg Sandwich: Egg, bacon, cheddar cheese, chipotle sauce and a mix of green peppers, red peppers, tomatoes and red onions on a bagel — Bruegger’s Bagels, Burlington, Vt.-based
  • John’s Breakfast: Housemade kimchi, sautéed veggies on brown rice and sunny-side-up eggs — Tasty n Sons, Portland, Ore.

Potato Trends on the Menu
The United States Potato Board (USPB) surveyed data from the NPD Group’s CREST (Consumer Reporting of Eating Share Trends) database to track and examine how Americans are consuming potatoes in restaurants. The results showed which foodservice segments (QSR, midscale and casual dining) have the strongest performance and which preparations are in greater demand. Highlights include:

  • Potatoes are included in 28 percent of total foodservice visits, the greatest share of those in casual dining.
  • French fries account for 63 percent of all potato orders in restaurants, with sales peaking from April through September.
  • Hash browns are significantly more important in the midscale segment (versus other segments).
  • QSR and casual dining experienced growth in potato salad orders while midscale restaurants saw declines.

“As the demand for lighter, healthier menu options and bold global flavors continues to grow, the USPB is working directly with America’s leading chefs to create exciting, contemporary and healthy applications for potatoes,” says Susan Weller, the commodity board’s marketing manager. “The USPB works with professional chefs during the annual accredited Menu Innovations Seminars to help chefs germinate new potato menu items through hands-on exploration. From the chefs that attend these seminars, we hear over and over again that they are amazed at the truly innovative things that they can do with potatoes once they start thinking about it.”

One example is the Spring Potato Salad developed by chef-instructor Bill Briwa at The Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley. The dish is a remake of the classic potato salad in a fresh way. It provides a colorful spring vegetable salad with purple potatoes, fingerling potatoes, asparagus, frisée, celery leaves, baby carrots and radishes—all dressed with a flavorful green goddess dressing.

The USPB also provides a multitude of resources with its Get Creative e-newsletters and the e-learning ProChef site, “providing inspiring ideas that go far beyond traditional fried, baked and mashed applications,” says Weller. “USPB also creates educational videos, housed on our exclusive e-learning ProChef site, with celebrity chefs that showcase how potatoes can be an essential building block for exciting, contemporary and healthy menu innovation.”

About The Author

Amanda M. Westbrooks

Amanda M. Westbrooks, Flavor & The Menu’s Digital Content Manager, knows her way around all things tech, enjoys working on farms, cleans her own fish, and sometimes wins writing awards.