Offering local, in-season foods not just during peak growing season but year-round will help you present your brand as more authentic to guests. And according to Mintel research, 78 percent of consumers consider seasonal dishes to be a treat (and therefore an extra enticement to support your business). Of course, using seasonal ingredients on your menu might be a breeze in the middle of summer, but what about in the dead of winter? Your marketing efforts in this area can help you sell the best of the season year-round and also create some urgency to encourage guests to enjoy your latest offerings while they can. Chefify suggests using each season to tell a range of stories. Who are your growers? Why does your chef love cooking with a certain item on your menu when it’s in season? What beverages are the ideal complements for the new foods you’re offering? Create excitement around the change of seasons by adjusting your restaurant’s environment — everything from the music to the artwork on the walls to the images you use on social media — to reflect the new season. To generate some buzz about the new menu offerings, plan a special tasting event where guests can sample and rate new dishes. (You can also do the opposite and have an end-of-season party to give guests a final chance to taste your popular summer berry cobbler.) If you’re just starting out and aren’t ready to make a larger commitment to offering seasonal foods, Chefify suggests creating one menu of staples and another with seasonal specials that you can test and swap out as you weigh guests’ reactions to them.
Even if you don’t think insects have a direct place in the food you serve (cricket cookies, anyone?), they could still play a large role in lab-grown cells that could eventually become replacements for such foods as shrimp, lobster or even hybrid alternatives to plant-based meat. That’s according to a new study out of Tufts University that found that insect cells are especially good building blocks for other proteins because they are safe, nutritional and cost-effective — qualities that put them in a more favorable position than lab-grown beef at the moment. A Fast Company report said that while lab-grown insect meat still has a ways to go before it’s ready to market — researchers still need to determine how to develop the cells into the muscle and fat that builds the meat-like structure of the protein — the study provides a strong basis for insects as the basis of related crustacean-like proteins on menus down the line.
What will your menu look like in 20 years? If new research from the global consulting firm AT Kearney is on target, there will be significantly less meat on it. The study predicts that by 2040, 60 percent of meat will not come from slaughtered animals but will instead be grown in labs or derived from plant-based products that look and taste like meat. We’re already well on our way. On the Spoon’s recent list of the 25 companies creating the future of food, six of the companies represented are involved in developing some kind of alternative to conventional meat. The companies run the gamut, ranging from startup companies making cultured protein (like Shiok Meats – watch for it to crack open the cell-based protein market in Asia) to more traditional protein brands like Tyson. Even though Tyson is the largest meat producer in the U.S., the Spoon reports, it has invested in cell-based protein companies and Bloomberg reports that it will soon be launching a beef-and-plant hybrid burger consisting of half pea protein and half angus beef.
As new food trends are identified each year, it seems there is always room for restaurants to use spices to innovate and bring global flavors to a menu. One company to watch is McCormick & Co. Its long history and traditional profile masks a tech-savvy strategy. The Spoon, which included McCormick on its Food Tech 25 list of companies making the greatest impact on food this year, reports that the spice brand’s new partnership with IBM Research AI will help it predict new flavor combinations and enhance old ones. The results may help you enhance your own menu offerings in a cost-effective way.
Banning plastic straws is so last month. Around the country and the world, hospitality brands are taking stock of all single-use plastic in their operations, along with other materials that burden the environment, and searching for technology that offers suitable replacements. If you’re looking for models showing how it can be done, examples abound. Take Live Nation, which hosts more than 35,000 events worldwide annually and recently pledged to eliminate single-use plastics at all of its festivals and venues by 2021. The Spoon reports that in addition to eliminating plastic straws, Live Nation will remove plastic food trays, beer cups, water bottles and toiletry bottles, and plans to test plant-based alternatives where possible. This is part of a larger initiative Live Nation has planned to eliminate its landfill waste by 2030.
Even small commodity fluctuations can have a substantial impact on restaurants. Take Chipotle, one among thousands of restaurant brands where guests expect to find avocados. Aaron Allen & Associates reported that in 2017, surging demand for avocados, paired with smaller crops in Mexico and California, had analysts predicting that every 10-percentage-point increase in avocado prices would lower Chipotle’s earnings-per-share by 30 cents on an annual basis. And that was for just one ingredient. Developing a plan to track global shortages and surpluses can help you avoid similar scenarios. Restaurant Nuts recommends several strategies: When you plan promotions to bring people in, make sure the items you promote are those whose ingredients are more widely available and profitable. During periods when producer costs are stable, anticipate times when they may fluctuate and build in incremental price increases early so you can maximize your profitability and avoid shocking guests with price surges. Cost out your menu. Add items that don’t use volatile commodities, and for popular but less profitable items, identify areas where you can easily make substitutions. Mine your data so you understand your most popular menu items and pairings, then design your menu and promotions so you direct guests to those items. Securing long-term contracts with suppliers can help you weather potential market fluctuations. Where this isn’t possible, you can always tell your guests about the challenge (without overusing this tactic). If a major hurricane wipes out a crop of an important ingredient you feature on your menu, for instance, guests are likely to understand if you’re transparent about why that ingredient is temporarily unavailable — and what appealing item you’re offering in its place.
Even as plant-based meat companies continue to improve upon their offering and make it easy to be a vegetarian or flexitarian these days, are the committed carnivores in your midst likely to order an Impossible Burger? Or a plant-based steak or stack of bacon? Perhaps not. Cell-based meat may have some promise here. Despite its current high cost, and questions about how it will be regulated and about whether it is actually better for the environment than conventional meat, the deciding factor may be taste. As reported in The Spoon, food tech companies are still in the midst of taste testing products ranging from cell-based sausages to shrimp, and the first public sale of cell-based meat is likely to happen late this year. Look for more companies to emerge (and for prices to start to fall) next year.
As Beyond Meat and the Impossible Burger compete for market share and fast-casual and quick-service brands scramble to bring meat substitutes to their menus, don’t forget some other plant-based meat alternatives that may suit your menu well. In a recent Upserve survey of 9,000 restaurant operators, jackfruit had climbed 52 percent on menus in the past year. Unripe jackfruit has a taste and texture that mimic meat and can work well as a pork or chicken substitute. It is also nutrient-rich, containing calcium, iron and potassium, and because it is a natural plant-based protein, it may appeal to guests looking to consume more whole foods.
June is National Iced Tea Month – and a prime time to make the most of a beverage in the midst of a renaissance. While tea has traditionally been considered a comforting beverage, modern drinkers like its wellness benefits, as well as the many dozens of tastes it can add to a menu. Ice it and serve blended or garnished with summer fruit, combine it with almond or oat milk in a cool matcha latte, or experiment with health-focused ingredients like ginger, turmeric and ginseng. The plant-forward trend has come to the tea category too: Mintel reports that some tea companies are more prominently promoting produce in their infusions. Ingredients ranging from basil to onion to tomato are appearing in teas.
The push for eating a plant-based diet with less animal protein may be missing an important point: Eating the right kind of seafood — and a broader range of it — can benefit the environment (and your menu too). That’s the conclusion of a new study published by Eating with the Ecosystem, a non-profit that promotes local and sustainable seafood harvesting in the Northeastern U.S. The research, as reported in The New Food Economy, considers the findings of 86 scientists who, over a six-month period, were assigned four species from a list of 52 seafood species commonly harvested by fishermen in New England waters. The scientists were told to find the different species in local markets, bring them home and prepare them. But often, they couldn’t find their assigned seafood. In fact, the study found that on the list of 52 species, only five (lobster, sea scallops, soft shell clams, cod and haddock) were available more than half of the time. When the scientists could track down a lesser-known fish, they were often pleasantly surprised: The John Dory, for example, was routinely rated as the best-tasting, easiest-to-prepare fish. By diversifying the seafood you offer and educating consumers about tasty varieties they haven’t tried, you could not only help maintain balance in marine ecosystems but also stand out with consumers. There isn’t a 100 percent foolproof system for ensuring you offer sustainable seafood but Restaurant Nuts advises you get to know your supplier well and ask plenty of questions about how and where the fish were caught. Get to know the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s list of eco-labels, which identifies fish that they believe have been caught sustainably. If you source farm-raised fish, go with a supplier in the U.S., which has stricter regulations about farm-raised fish than most other countries.