On the Menu: Play It Safe

Abbie Westra, Director, Editorial, CSP

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If you’re like most foodservice operators, you have an ingrained excitement for new foods. Unfortunately for your culinary proclivities, you must temper that excitement with the reality of the average consumer’s palate.

For c-store operators, when it comes to menu offerings, the keyword for 2013 is “caution.” There are new flavors coming down the pike, but based on purchasing behavior, customers still tend to prefer basics. Mark DiDomenico of Datassential says the key to the new is the old.

“When you think about adventure and food, there’s new and different and then there’s a combination of things that also result in something new,” he says.

One of the best recent examples of this, he says, is Taco Bell’s Doritos Locos Tacos. By combining a familiar snack chip with a standard taco, the company took two old things and had one of the most successful product launches in its history.

“[It’s] not terribly cutting edge, but you’ve got to hand it to them—Taco Bell knew their consumer,” DiDomenico says.“Even playing on that side of the culinary fence, they still were able to come up with something new and innovative. I think c-stores can play in that realm as well.”

One easy win is quality. David Morris of Kaleidoscope Research Consulting says that while product quality has improved, it’s still an area that needs growth.

“C-stores compete very well on price, “Morris says. “They need to continue to innovate on quality and health.”

But while quality is king, convenience still informs the menu. Chicken, for example, is more important in the grocery sector no doubt due to the prevalence of rotisserie chicken. But it’s also morphing into convenient forms such as chicken strips, bites, tenders and nuggets for on-the-go consumers.

“The challenge it has is the portable part of it,” Tim Powell of Technomic says.“You can’t eat with one hand and drive—I mean, you can, but it’s kind of messy.”

Pizza is one food that’s always been convenient. Bonnie Riggs of The NPDGroup says while the traditional neighborhood pizza joint is still the gorilla in the room, it’s lost notable market share. Pizza among foodservice at retail has grown by almost 50% in the past five years alone.

“They have increased their share quite a bit,” Riggs says. “In 2007 their share of total pizza servings within the whole industry was 5%. In 2012 it’s 7%. That’s quite a shift.”

One place where unique flavors are percolating is the grocery deli. Global flavor is among the top trends Nielsen Perishables Group identified among deli prepared food categories that showed growth. The trend is evident in the increase in sales and selection of dips and spreads such as hummus and baba ghanoush.

Sandwiches are one format in which newer flavors are becoming trendy. DiDomenico says operators are increasingly willing to experiment. “To me, ifan operator’s looking to offer something a little bit more high end, to be able to throw capicola or sorpressata on a sandwich, that’s an option,” DiDomenico says.

But ultimately, smart operators aren’t pushing the envelope too much. Introducing new flavors into old favorites is the safest way to win over new fans while keeping the old

Today’s Special: Pizza

Recent pizza rollouts from across the restaurant Industry.

  • After months of testing, Chili’s has rolled out a variety of pizzas nationwide,including Southwestern Chicken, Taco, Pepperoni and Five Cheese.
  • Jack in the Box added to its menu Pizza Bites, consisting of pizza dough stuffed with pepperoni, melted mozzarella cheese, oven-dried tomatoes and a blend of garlic, herbs and spices.
  • Pizza Hut recently rolled out Crazy Cheesy Crust Pizza, a large one topping pizza with 16 pockets of Italian five-cheese blend in place of the standard crust. In February, the chain introduced Pizza Sliders in three varieties. They come nine to a box for $10, or three for $5.
  • Ledo Pizza rolled out a handful of new pizzas under its Craft Pizza line. New varieties include a Sicilian Tuna Melt Craft Pizza and a Spring Chicken Craft Pizza. The latter comes with a garlic herb aioli sauce, basil leaves and sliced chicken topped with smoked Provolone, fontina, asiago and Parmesan cheeses.
  • Papa Murphy’s recently added three new pizzas under its Primo Pizza line. The Prosciutto & Arugula Delite Pizza comes with red sauce, prosciutto, fresh mozzarella and arugula. Other varieties include premium ingredients such as fennel sausage, goat cheese and sun-dried tomatoes.
  • Old Chicago introduced its Tavern Thin Crust Pizzas with varieties such as Meat Me Tavern with andouille sausage, Canadian bacon and fresh basil; and the Hawaiian Tavern with pineapple and a sweet Thai chili tomato sauce.
  • The new Spicy Korean BBQ Pizza at California Pizza Kitchen come stopped with charred Korean BBQ pork, sesame seeds, mozzarella and spicy kitchen salad.
  • California Pizza Kitchen also recently introduced a Brussels &Bacon Pizza. The pizza comes topped with roasted Brussels sprouts, sweet caramelized onions, apple wood smoked bacon, Romano and goat cheeses with cracked black pepper. On the Menu Chicken and Pizza, Prevalence and PotentialFourteen percent of foodservice-at-retail operators believe that chicken (rotisserie, fried, other non-sandwich varieties) has high growth potential in the year to come.
  • Sixty-one percent of respondents currently offer chicken in their retail foodservice operations; the majority of the programs are self-branded and prepared on site.
  • Twenty-two percent of operators believe pizza has high growth potential in the year to come. The majority of those operators come from the c-store segment.
  • Sixty-nine percent of operators already offer some sort of ready-to-eat pizza-pie/slice program. Fifty-one percent offer a ready-to bake-pizza program.

Chicken, by the Numbers

  • Poultry is trending for breakfast, snacks and appetizers. In particular,breakfast entrées featuring chicken are up by 16% on Technomic’sTop 500 full-service restaurant menus since 2011.
  • In addition to breakfast, poultry is also a viable alternative to beef and pork for lunch and dinner. Three out of 10 consumers say they’d order chicken- and turkey-based substitutes for beef or pork mended during these day-parts.• The leading flavors paired with chicken at the top 500 limited- and full-service restaurants include garlic, spicy flavors, barbecue, teriyaki and lemon. For those menuing turkey, look to cranberry, savory flavors, barbecue, chipotle and orange.
  • Seventy-seven percent of consumers said that poultry described as “fresh” is seen as slightly or much more healthy. Seventy-five percent said the same for the descriptor “naturally raised,” and 74% said the term “natural” when used with poultry implies a slightly or much more healthy option.

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