When explaining why Mighty Wings hadn’t delivered the success story McDonald’s had hoped for, CEO Don Thompson blamed, among several things, the flavor—noting that the wings were too spicy for some consumers. While few can argue with the facts, and Mighty Wings mediocre sales, the idea that spice is a turn off doesn’t necessarily fly.
According to new data from Technomic, 54 percent of consumers say they prefer hot or spicy flavors and sauces. In fact, diners’ tolerance for temperature is rising; in 2009, less than half (46 percent) said they preferred spicy foods.
Perhaps the most important fact for operators to glean from Technomic’s Flavor Consumer Trend Report is that 41 percent of consumers say new and innovative flavors can influence them to visit a restaurant. In addition, three-fourths said that if they like a menu item with innovative flavor, they’re highly likely to return for the same dish.
Expect to see more and more chefs jumping on the trend and using unique flavors to entice diners. In its trend report for 2014 released this week, consulting firm Andrew Freeman & Co. predicted that chefs will focus on regional nuance and bold flavors to elevate barbecue in the New Year. The firm also expects to see growth in niche ethnic concepts that spotlight hyper-regional flavors, spices and cuisines (such as Northern Thai and Macanese) as a way to differentiate themselves.
For more on how chefs are amping up flavor on menus across segments, read “Playing with flavor” from our November issue of Restaurant Business magazine.