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Chocolate hazelnut spreads: Nothing to bust here

Look at the above chart. That’s impressive growth for a commodity as niche as chocolate hazelnut spread. Given the staggering increase in year-over-year sales, one might expect there to be a corresponding uptick of mentions of chocolate hazelnut spread on menus, but in fact the number of menus that mention chocolate hazelnut spread has remained right around 2 percent of all menus for the past year and a half. Considered together, these two statistics form a gap between the consumer-product-goods and restaurant industries that represents a potential sweet spot for operators. In the past this series has operated as a platform to bust over-buzzed-about foods (think the Cronut), but in the case of chocolate hazelnut spreads, what operators have is more of a boon than a bust.

To be clear, we are not claiming that chocolate hazelnut spreads are a certifiable food trend. Chocolate hazelnut spreads in general fail to meet the most important metric set forth by Food Genius: quarter-over-quarter menu mention growth. But the fact that chocolate hazelnut spread’s sales are up, as is online buzz, is indicative not just of consumer awareness but also of consumer desire. It’s a distinction worth noting because attempting to capitalize off of something that consumers have already demonstrated they like is much easier than attempting to do so based off of something they are merely increasingly aware of (i.e., ancient grains). And restaurant operators are already hip to this distinction, as made evident by the increase, albeit minor, in menu mentions of a product that experienced huge growth in sales in recent years: Greek yogurt.

If what happened to Greek yogurt is any indication, it is likely only a matter of time until Nutella, Nocciolata Organic Hazelnut Spread, Barefoot & Chocolate Hazelnut Spread, and similar chocolate hazelnut spreads begin to crop up on an increasing amount of menus, but the fact that they are yet to experience a similar kind of correlation means that the moment has never been riper for operators to begin to menu chocolate hazelnut spread-infused desserts and breakfast items. Perennial tastemaker Mario Batali, is already leading the charge by establishing Nutella bars in his mega-popular chain, Eataly. In these so-called Nutellerias, employees whip up delectable desserts such as mini-tarts filled with Nutella, and brioche topped with Nutella. A few more single-concept stores devoted to all things Nutella are slated to open in 2015 as well with menus that feature treats such as Nutella-laced pizzas and Nutella-bacon breakfast sandwiches.

Versatility is another major benefit of chocolate hazelnut spreads. As illustrated by the aforementioned menu items, the spread is often menued and consumed as a breakfast or dessert item in equal measure. This kind of flexibility in turn allows operators twice as many opportunities to earn back the precious research and development dollars spent on crafting their delicious hazelnut-inspired items.

And if operators are still unsure of chocolate hazelnut spread’s potential, let’s consult the ultimate expression of people’s preferences: Yelp. This past summer Yelp launched a new tool that allows users to observe an item’s “trendiness” based on Yelp’s decades’ worth of reviews. Take, for example, Nutella.

As measured by the conversations on Yelp, Nutella’s star is on the rise. Though it’s had its ups and downs, the trend is overall positive. Contrast that with the Cronut:

The above data sets, in conjunction with the versatility of chocolate hazelnut spreads, the measurable consumer demand of them in the CPG industry, and the path paved by a similar CPG- uccess, Greek yogurt, all come together to make a rather convincing case on behalf of chocolate hazelnut spreads’ potential on menus. And the surging amount of recipes on Pinterest for homemade chocolate hazelnut spreads only fuel the growing buzz. Of course it is impossible to determine with certainty whether a not a buzzed about food will be a flash in the pan or eventually muscle its way into becoming a menu mainstay, but with chocolate hazelnut spreads, the odds have never been better.

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