Plant-based proteins, to this point, have largely been branded as a nice-to-have option for flexitarians. But a looming pork shortage (or what some may consider a bacon emergency) could make plant-based proteins a more urgent need. An NPR report estimates that by the end of this year, China’s pig population could be cut in half, which will result in high pork prices in the U.S. The Spoon predicts that the conditions will be good news for the growing number of producers of plant-based pork products – and bacon, in particular. Restaurant operators should also have sufficient bacon alternatives to offer on their menus.
If your guests enjoy Mediterranean flavors and diets, consider adding up-and-coming condiments like ajvar to your menu. Ajvar (pronounced eye-var) is a red-pepper and oil-based condiment from the Balkans that is just beginning to appear beyond Balkan restaurants, Flavor & the Menu reports. It works well as a marinade for skewers or as a dip option when paired with bread in a shareable appetizer platter, and its color and aroma can help to bring appealing and accessible global flavor to a menu.
Every season has its signature flavors, local specialties and guest cravings ― and as Starbucks demonstrated with its relaunch of its pumpkin-spice latte in August (when much of the U.S. was still sweltering in temperatures in the 80s and 90s), you have a number of weeks before and after the season to build momentum around a menu item’s comings and goings. Tapping into your POS data can help you capitalize on remaining seasonal ingredients in your inventory as you make way for foods that will help you build your next seasonal menu. Use it to pinpoint which ingredients you’re using in each dish and how quickly you’re using them, which can help you plan upcoming specials and avoid disappointing guests looking for a particular item. If you have a surplus of apples this fall, for example, try creating a special, low-priced menu item around them that you won’t be offering for much longer. Limited-time offers (LTOs) can not only help you use up this season’s inventory but also bring loyal guests back and get them excited about what’s coming next. As David Portalatin, food industry adviser at NPD, told Marketwatch, “A well-executed LTO can boost sales and serve as a competitive edge for restaurant operators and help food service manufacturers test new products and concepts.” Use the weeks before your menu changes to promote future items: Share samples with guests, collect feedback about what’s going over well and what needs adjustment, and consider offering an on-trend promotion that will bring guests back when you launch next season’s menu
The plant-based protein trend appears to be one with staying power ― sales of plant-based meat grew 37 percent between 2017 and 2019, according to the Good Food Institute, and demand seems set to increase further. Still, differences are beginning to emerge from operators weighing the pros of adapting their menus to the trend vs. the cons of integrating a processed product into the menu. The Spoon reports that Chipotle, for one, unlike many of its competitors, has decided against offering plant-based meat because it is processed (and therefore conflicts with the brand’s interest in knowing/sharing where its food comes from). Does your brand pride itself on offering fresh food and being transparent about its origins and ingredients? If so, how are you accommodating consumer demand for plant-based protein?
Months after chefs and food industry analysts alike identified cannabidiol (CBD) products as top food and beverage trends of 2019, the CBD industry continues to, shall we say, fly high. In a recent survey of 2,000 U.S. adults conducted by a market research firm focused on the cannabis market, 1,500 respondents said they had used CBD products in the previous three months. The survey also found that 40 percent of consumers aged 21 and older would try CBD products. Consumer interest in the products has driven restaurant operators to provide them – but considering CBD has still not been approved by the FDA and is readily associated with marijuana (despite lacking its psychoactive effects), it has put operators in a tough position. Local health departments in New York, California and other states have begun cracking down on restaurants serving CBD foods and beverages – this despite the passage of the farm bill in December making most applications of CBD legal at the federal level. While many restaurant operators offering CBD products have taken the “ask for forgiveness later” approach with health regulators, the risks may outweigh the benefits. A New York Post report said that restaurants violating the CBD ban could be fined up to $650. In Los Angeles, the Atlantic reports, the county health department said it would start docking points on restaurant inspections this past July. If you’re thinking of including CBD products on your menu, make sure you understand the implications. In the meantime, it may make sense to keep the CBD recipes in mind (but perhaps off the menu) and keep close tabs on regulations as they evolve.
Clamoring to sell a plant-based burger than can pass for meat? There may be good reason to be a late adopter. Amid the rise in demand for plant-based proteins, a number of industry experts have questioned the more processed options available. (Case in point: The Impossible Burger has been criticized for its inclusion of the ingredient heme, which Food Dive describes as an iron-containing molecule made by fermenting genetically modified yeast.) Further, an article published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association by doctors, nutritionists and public health specialists advised that further research was needed to determine if plant-based meat alternatives designed to mimic the real thing were in fact as healthy and beneficial to the environment as they claim to be.
At a time when sugar continues to be in the crosshairs when it comes to the American diet, sugary drinks are becoming not only more plentiful at large restaurant chains but also sweeter. That’s according to new research from Harvard that was recently published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. The research, based on the analysis of beverage offerings available at 63 quick-service, fast-casual and full-service brands between 2012 and 2017, found that the number of sugary drinks climbed by 82 percent. Further, the sweetness of drinks increased too: Among newly introduced sugary beverages including sodas, fruit drinks and sports drinks, the number of calories per drink increased by 50 and the average amount of sugar reached 63 grams, approximately double the American Heart Association’s recommended daily sugar threshold. Taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages and warnings from medical associations are creating downward pressure on sugar levels in the beverage industry, but in the meantime, restaurants have an important role to fill in providing flavorful drinks that don’t pile on the extra sugar. Think craft seltzers, fruit-infused waters, herbal teas and kombuchas as stand-alone options or extra ingredients that can add interest (but not all of the sugar) to your beverage lineup.
Hummus is a menu workhorse. It can help you deliver on-trend spices, serve as both a condiment and a main attraction, and add interest to a broad range of different dishes. Flavor & the Menu suggests it as a base with such ingredients as eggs, onions, pickles and harissa oil. Its versatility also helps it add depth when added to sandwiches, as a base for grain-and-vegetable bowls or meat skewers, and even as a salad dressing.
The assault on sugar continues. Food + Tech Connect’s latest U.S. Food and Beverage Startup Investment Report was released recently and reports on the continued decline of sweeteners in the American diet. It said that according to the USDA, per capita sugar consumption has declined for four straight years and is now at a 30-year low. What’s more, alternative sweeteners like stevia and monkfruit have not won over American taste buds. The trend is sparking startup activity as companies develop food and drink designed to replace sugary or artificially sweet items. It’s a trend to bear in mind as you develop dessert offerings and describe menu items. Ingredients that offer inherent sweetness – without any help from sugar, artificial sweeteners or even natural, low-calorie sweeteners – are more apt to win with consumers.
Does your breakfast menu need a new creative twist? Try to boost your breakfast options with on-trend savory flavors. Restaurant Business reports that combinations such as bean-topped grain bowls are on the rise this year, along with such global dishes as shakshuka and chilaquiles. On the side, consider offering new varieties of sausage with seasonings ranging from Cajun to jalapeño.