The highest-volume purchases for most sit-down breakfast programs are typically bacon and eggs. Industry pros help you make smarter buys.
The egg report
Two topics lead the news about eggs: certification programs for humane treatment of hens and the uptick in prices.
Animal activists have been pushing operators to purchase cage-free eggs from hens that typically live on the floor of a barn or poultry house; conventionally produced eggs are laid by hens raised in cages while free-range eggs come from hens with some outdoor access. Right now, cage-free and free-range eggs are short in supply and high in price; 95 percent of foodservice eggs still come from caged hens. Even chains like Burger King and Hardee’s, which have committed to switch, are sourcing only 2 to 5 percent of eggs from cage-free producers.
“Over time, farmers can convert their buildings from conventional to cage-free production if the market demands it,” says Gene Gregory, president/CEO of the United Egg Producers, adding that many farmers are waiting to see if it’s worth the investment. In the meantime, his organization instituted UEP Certified animal-welfare standards for conventional producers. The guidelines call for increasing cage space for each hen by nearly 30 percent and improving the care and handling of flocks. Eggs produced on farms that voluntarily follow these standards are marked with a UEP Certified logo. Cage-free eggs generally fall under American Humane Association animal-welfar guidelines.
Most operators are still more concerned with egg prices, which have hit all-time highs, notes Gregory. Lower supply is one reason—farmers lost money for several years, so they reduced their flocks but egg demand remained very strong. High feed and energy costs are adding to the problem. “Wholesale prices are going to remain high into 2008,” contends Richard Brown, executive VP of Urner Barry Publications, a commodity market news reporting service. “Egg production will increase but not quickly enough to have a significant effect.”
Are there any bargains to be had? “Liquid egg whites are relatively cheap in comparison to whole eggs and yolks,” Brown says. While frozen and dried eggs are usually a good deal, the inventory is low this year. There weren’t enough shell eggs laid in summer—the time of highest production—to break and store for processing, Brown adds.
Product cutting: Sliced bacon
Bring home the bacon
Philip Jones, president of Jones Dairy Farm and a trained chef, is the fifth generation to lead the 118-year-old Wisconsin-based company. Their recent product addition is cherry hardwood-smoked bacon. “We tested many different woods and liked the subtle flavor of cherry,” he says. “Plus, Wisconsin is known for cherries, so it was a natural.”
Jones explains what to look for when purchasing bacon for your restaurant.
- Confirm the count. If you spec 14 to 18 slices per pound for thin-sliced bacon or 9 to 11 slices per pound for thick-sliced, your order should meet those specs.
- Appearance is critical. Slices should be uniform in size with no visible defects. Fat to lean balance should be about 50-50; if bacon is too lean, it cooks up tough.
- Check aroma. The bacon should smell natural and enticing. An artificial or off odor often indicates the addition of liquid or atomized smoke.
- Note the color. The volatiles in the wood impart different characteristics. Cherry wood bacon is vibrant and pinkish; hickory-smoked bacon has a darker, caramel color.
- Cook the bacon. Halfway through cooking, note how much water is bubbling in the pan. Too much water indicates that excess brine has been pumped in.
- Remove some par-cooked bacon for a reheat test. Set aside, cool and then complete cooking. Does bacon reheat without scorching?
- Drain cooked bacon. Shrinkage will occur, but it should not be extreme; one pound of raw bacon should yield slightly more than one-third cooked.
- Taste it. Flavor and texture should be consistent with the product’s description.
Philip Jones’ cooking tips
The optimal way to cook bacon is in the convection oven. Arrange slices on a baking sheet and cook at 325°F. Cooking time is about 20 minutes—twice as long as a skillet or grill—but the result will be very uniform. When white bubbles appear on the surface, remove bacon from the oven; it will continue to cook a bit more.
The breakfast buy
Basic breakfast staples should be the foundation of any full-service breakfast program. These include cereal, eggs, bacon and sweet goods,” says Scott Scherer, corporate chef at General Mills Foodservice Culinary Center. “But be sure to work with your distributor to see all the available items in your order guide.”
In the bacon and sausage category alone, new flavor profiles and different meats continue to emerge. Here are more insights on breakfast purchasing:
- Provide several bread choices on sandwiches. Biscuits, bagels, wraps and rolls should be in your inventory, as well as different sliced bread options.
- Incorporate health-conscious foods. Buy whole-grain breads, muffins and cereals, soy milk and yogurt; cross-utilize fruits and vegetables from other meals.
- Use a salad bar to set up an oatmeal or yogurt bar, purchasing dried fruit, dry cereal, nuts and sweeteners as toppings.
- Offer comfort foods. Patrons tend to have deeply ingrained habits when it comes to breakfast choices, but they may welcome change within those habits.
Rise and shine
In the last two years, the average number of breakfast items offered at restaurants has increased in every segment, according to Datassential’s MenuTrends DIRECT.
QSR: 15.8 items (+6.2%)
Midscale: 33.7 items (+4.1%)
Casual dining: 22.8 items (+2.2%)
Fine dining: 27.7 items (+12.9%)