Protein Picks Up Pace, Appears on More Menus, Expert Says

‘They’re adding bacon, sausage, ham, brisket,’ consultant Jessica Williams says at Convenience Retailing University
Jessica Williams of Food Forward Thinking speaks at Convenience Retailing University in Nashville.
Photograph by CSP Staff

A growing trend in foodservice is protein, with convenience-store retailers and quick-service restaurants (QSRs) beefing up their menus with meats.

“We’re seeing lots of meats being piled on unapologetically,” said Jessica Williams (pictured), founder and CEO of Louisville, Kentucky-based consultancy Food Forward Thinking, in her presentation Craving Success: Navigating Foodservice Trends. “They’re adding bacon, sausage, ham, brisket.”

Williams displayed several slides to support the trend, including the two-protein Brisket Egg & Cheese Quesadilla at Spicewood, Texas-based TXB. “Egg is a protein,” Williams said.

Curby’s Express Market, Lubbock, Texas, offers four Hot Dawg Combos, which include a Brisket Dawg and a Prosciutto Fig & Bacon Topped Dog.

In Williams’ consulting work with Curby’s, they added protein to salads as well. The Prosciutto Salad includes the ham as well as spinach, a spring mix, bacon, blue cheese, dried cranberries, candied pecans and balsamic vinaigrette.

The 3 Meat French Stack at Cliff’s Local Market, Utica, New York, features bacon, sausage and ham and calls itself The Ultimate Breakfast Sandwich.

“Suddenly, we have a brand new product,” Williams said. “You can charge a premium price and get a good margin.”

Finally, at York, Pennsylvania-based Rutter’s, the Cinnamon Roll Breakfast Sandwich includes a sausage patty, while Irving, Texas-based 7-Eleven offers the French Toast Sandwich with sausage, egg, cheese and chipotle bacon mayo.

“It’s gotta be good, right,” Williams asked of the 7-Eleven item. “It’s over the top.”

In Development

When developing a new product, retailers should ask:

  • What are our current “indulgent” ingredients?
  • What two flavor profiles would be surprisingly great together?
  • What do we make in house (or what is produced proprietary for us)?
  • What one item would contribute the most flavor?
  • How much would be “just” filling enough so you can eat it every day?

This last question “is always tricky,” Williams said. “You don’t want so much that it makes you feel sick or is too expensive that you wouldn’t come back every day.”

Trend 2

A second trend today is the growing use of fresh fruits and vegetables, said Williams, citing the Arby’s Cherry Turnover, Jollibee Peach Mango Pie and Popeyes Blueberry Lemon Cream Cheese Fried Pie.

When considering new items like these, retailers should always consider the ease or difficulty of each ingredient. For example, with the Arby’s Cherry Turnover, the easy way to use dough is a thaw-and-serve option, while the difficult route is proofing, rolling and cutting the dough. For filling, the easy route is using canned cherries while the difficult route is cooking down the berries and adding sugar.

Other considerations, Williams said, include:

  • What would be an easy addition to round out an existing meal?
  • Do we have a small item that could be a hidden gem add-on?
  • The fruit and small size means a low(ish) calorie count, right?
  • Are our desserts right-sized?
  • Are our desserts right-priced?

Other examples of incorporating fresh into one’s product selection were a Fruit & Yogurt Parfait from Oregon Fruit in Hand, Salem, Oregon, and the Marcy, New York-based c-store chain Cliff’s Local Market, which sells a Harvest Salad.

“They add their own spin, such as dried cranberries, that give it a little sweet and everything about it says healthy and fresh,” Williams said. “And if you’re making it in-house, it’s easier to make sure it’s fresh.”

Another Cliff’s product is watermelon that is hand-cut into small cubes by employees, Williams added.

Trend 3

The final growing trend Williams discussed was Sweet and Heat. Williams rolled off a list of restaurants with offerings in this genre then segued to convenience stores getting in on the game.

Noting Chester’s Chicken’s Honey Stung Chicken Sandwich, Williams said, “That’s an interesting name. Is there a sensory-provoking way to describe my new item? I bet there is. How can you get more daring in your description, especially if you’re doing spicy. Dare them to try it: ‘inferno,’ ‘fuego,’ ‘volcano,’ ‘diablo’.”

In addition to the name, the product is appealing because it’s sweet, daring, chicken and in the sandwich format, she said.

Other questions a retailer should ask when developing a product include:

  • What neutral or name brand (candy?) would best complement this platform?
  • Staying with a tried-and-true base, can we cross-utilize and build on the platform?
  • Does this product have a nice balance of familiar and discovery?

In closing, Williams spoke about the importance of service when selling beverages, encouraging retailers be doing something with coffee and cold beverages. “Even though I say I’m in food, I’m now saying I’m in food and beverage because made-to-order beverages are such a thing.”

Take a look at what you can do in beverage innovation, she said, using the foodservice space for any degree of made-to-order drinks, whether it’s energy or coffee. “And if you’re not doing it, look around. It’s in the pipeline for a lot of groups, maybe not this year but definitely next year.”

Finally, citing QSR magazine stats, friendliness was rated 51% higher when a customer was thanked when they placed their order, she said. And an order with friendly service was considered more accurate 8% of the time, and overall satisfaction was 16% higher with friendly service.

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