Whether it’s looking to boost sales during off-peak hours, garnering attention for a new concept with an eye-catching menu specialty or offering customers a simple way to make their meal healthier, operators in Japan roll out a wide variety of new food and drink on a regular basis. And while these new products can sometimes veer toward the wacky, restaurant chains in this market also introduce items that operators stateside may find adaptable.
From a new effort at Starbucks to jolt late-day sales to a novel way to branch out into retail, here are four intriguing menu ideas spotted recently in Japan.
1. Starbucks launches new decaf range
Starbucks may have shelved plans to drive late-day sales with adult beverages as part of its Evenings program, but it is still trying to drive traffic after the sun goes down. And a beverage that relaxes rather than stimualtes remains central to that effort.
That’s at least part of the reasoning behind the chain’s new decaf platform in Japan, which makes an array of caffeine-free coffees, lattes and other java drinks available at any time of day. Starbucks says that its method of extracting caffeine leaves all of the flavor and aroma of its coffee intact, so guests who want to enjoy the full Starbucks experience but avoid the caffeine do not have to compromise.
The chain is marketing the 99%-caffeine-free drinks as a new option for a variety of scenarios, such as for guests who may be pregnant, those who want to unwind with a coffee later in the day, or those looking to make their mornings more relaxing.
2. Matsuya beef-bowl chain offers carb-cutting rice swap
Gyudon specialist Matsuya has found a novel way to make its signature beef bowls more attractive to customers looking to cut carbs. For a small upcharge, the chain will now substitute the rice in its signature bowls and other entrees with a waistline-friendly type of specialty tofu.
Currently available at select locations, the new rice substitute is called yudofu, a type of flavored tofu that’s gently heated in water similar to how steamed rice is prepared. Matsuya says that guests who make the swap can cut out more than 90% of carbs and 70% of calories from their meal. The option is currently testing at about 75 of the chain’s more than 1,000 locations.
3. New dessert concept creates pancake kebabs
Osaka Kawaii Panbo is a Japanese sweets specialist offering an interesting new dessert that’s grabbing a good amount of attention online. The signature offering at this recently opened shop is panbo—a kebab-like skewer with alternating layers of mini pancakes and fruit.
Guests start by ordering a small (about 8-inch) or large (about 16-inch) panbo, then watch as their treat is hand-skewered with pancakes and fruits like banana, apple and kiwi, then capped with a marshmallow at the end. Guests can then customize their skewer at a saucing station and finish it with sprinkles if they choose.
4. Beard Papa’s blazes trail with pourable pastries
While many a restaurant brand has branched out into retail with packaged versions of their signature menu items, not many have done so in such an odd way as Beard Papa’s. The cream puff chain has teamed up with a local food and beverage company to create a liquefied version of its signature sweets.
Launched in limited quantities in late March ahead of a national rollout slated for late April, the new Beard Papa Drinkable Cream Puff mimics the flavor of the chain’s cream puff filling. The canned cold drinks are being marketed toward young males looking for a refreshing snack that’s rich and sweet. A 190-gram can (about 7 ounces) sells for just over $1.15.