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3 ways to put alternative protein on the plate

turkey meatball restaurant menu

For most foodservice operations, protein is the ingredient with the highest food costs—and the most volatile pricing. Shortages and market fluctuations, whether seasonal or circumstantial, can make profitability and consistency challenging—especially when it’s not possible to adjust menu prices. This is particularly true of premium proteins such as beef.

This is where protein alternatives come into play, such as turkey, chicken and pork, which are generally less expensive than beef and offer more commodity-price stability. Menuing these ingredients can help keep protein from putting a hole in profits, and it can also serve as a platform for menu innovation and help convey a healthier image.

Here are three easy ways operators can menu alternative proteins and stand apart from the competition.

Meet the demand for burger variety

According to recent consumer data from Technomic, diners are looking for burger options that are unique, healthy and indulgent, and alternative proteins such as turkey fit the bill. Ground-beef alternatives provide a point of differentiation over same-old burger menus, and turkey burgers are lower in fat and calories. They also take to a wide variety of flavor profiles and toppings.

Similarly, pork-based burgers play up the indulgence factor for a once-in-a-while treat, and they also marry well with the global-flavors trend. An Asian-inspired banh mi burger, with a pork-based patty, is one way to offer a twist on a menu favorite.

Play up the versatility

Ground meat isn’t just for burgers—it’s a real workhorse in the restaurant kitchen. Alternative proteins in all forms are an ideal replacement within many menu items and can help operators offer more variety.

Not only does this strategy save on cost and allow for a lower price point, but helps create new signatures. Operators can substitute turkey legs for veal in osso buco, for example, or use ground turkey to create better-for-you versions of classic dishes such as meatballs, meatloaf or chili.

Tap the comfort-food trend

Comfort food is homey and widely appealing, which makes it a perfect vehicle for lower-cost proteins such as turkey or chicken. Try these traditional favorites, which offer indulgent, familiar dishes with a healthier twist:

  • Open-face turkey-and-stuffing sandwich with gravy
  • Chicken or turkey pot pie
  • Braised pulled pork 

Additionally, operators can utilize alternative proteins in comfort classics during breakfast for an additional boost, especially as all-day breakfast continues to make moves on menus. Consumers are looking for healthier breakfast items during all times of day, and low-fat turkey is a way to update many of these familiar favorites.

The key to the success of all of these dishes is care in execution and flavor in the recipe. Because turkey is lower in fat than either beef or pork, it takes well to flavorful marinades and brines as well as distinctive glazes, condiments and sauces. Its neutral flavor profile also makes turkey ideal for matching up with a wide variety of companion ingredients and cooking techniques that will please customers and help trim food costs.

This post is sponsored by Butterball Foodservice

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