There’s a groundswell of “keeping it real” at restaurants, whether in the actual menu items offered, the preparation or in the marketing of them.
“There’s a tectonic shift coming in approaches to menu (research and development) with more of an emphasis on authentic and real food,” said Nancy Kruse, president of The Kruse Co., Atlanta.
She identified this as one of three major trends at the workshop session “Menu Innovation 2012: Turning Trends into Money Makers” at the 93rd annual National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show in Chicago May 6.
Chains like Five Guys Burgers and Fries and Chick-fil-A tout their fries as fresh-cut.
“It shows a transparency of ingredients used and the preparation,” she said.
Jarred fruits and vegetables are an emerging menu item that have been so well received in Zoo Atlanta’s catering program that the park now sells them at retail.
Kruse pointed out several noncommercial foodservice operations that are leading the “make it real” charge. New Milford Hospital in New Milford, Conn., has a Plow-to-Plate program that incorporates a rooftop garden, local growers and scratch preparation.
Yale University, New Haven, Conn., operates a own garden that supplis than 20% of the produce used in its campus foodservice venues, she said.
Kruse noted that for most foodservice operators, the best way to demonstrate authenticity is in the products used and how they are positioned and promoted. She spoke with the executive chef of The Cheesecake Factory who said that because of the chain’s size, he was unable to procure a consistent supply of organic produce, but the company’s smaller sister chain Grand Lux Cafe was able to put an avocado and heirloom tomato salad on the menu.
Panera Bread promotes strawberry poppyseed and chicken salad as all-natural and antibiotic-free chicken with fresh seasonal fruit.
Other big chains promote that they work closely with their produce suppliers. Last summer Wendy’s ran an ad picturing a California strawberry field. In January, a McDonald’s ad featured a Washington state potato grower discussing how his family has grown potatoes for McDonald’s for years.
“Some examples are driven more by merchandising than the reality of the product being sustainable or local,” Kruse said.