As temperatures climb, so does the pressure on menu makers to come up with something that will snag attention during the industry’s busy season. Here are four introductions in the works that go further than most efforts in the quest for differentiation.
1. Burger King’s riff on Cheetos
The internet almost burst into flames last week because of heated buzz over the Home of the Whopper’s newest novelty: strips of macaroni and cheese rolled in a coating that delivers the crunch and flavor of Cheetos, the popular cheese puff snack.
Marketed as an alternative to french fries or chicken nuggets, the Mac n’ Cheetos sells for about $2.49 per order. They are available systemwide as of today.
There could be a health connotation to the new concoction. It packs fewer calories (310) than a small order of fries or onion rings, and even a small garden salad topped with dressing (all three items contain 320 calories, according to Burger King's website).
The industry is agog because the Mac n’ Cheetos is the first time Burger King has played off a popular snack food in a mashup, a tactic that has given Taco Bell one sales pop after another.
2. Church’s ‘smoked’ chicken
Fried chicken has caught the fancy of high-end restaurants and full-service chains, but a longstanding name in that market has decided it’s time to put down the batter and fire up the oven. This summer, Church’s Chicken is featuring what it describes as naked chicken—a half bird rubbed with spices and baked “naked” in a fashion that delivers a smoky taste. How that smokiness is delivered is apparently a secret the chain does not want to reveal.
A half bird served with a biscuit is priced at $3.49. The offer expires July 31.
3. Papa John’s secret pan pizza
A new thick-crust pie sporting chunks of tomato and thicker cheese is being tested in five of Papa John’s markets, Nomura Securities restaurant analyst Mark Kalinowski revealed to customers in a special blast. The promise seems to be a heartier pie for a price that’s only slightly above the prevailing rate in the discount-reliant pizza market. Kalinowski wrote that a 12-inch version of the pie sells for about $10 in three of the five test markets.
“That could make for a fairly big product launch—relatively bigger than most by the Papa John’s concept,” he wrote.
4. Lionfish swims onto another menu
Jack’s Farm to Fork in Ft. Meyers, Fla., may not be the first restaurant to serve lionfish, the invasive species that conservationists hope foodservice will embrace as an inexpensive food stock. But few establishments have gone as far as the resort-based restaurant to introduce diners to a species that's little-known except to aquarium keepers.
Jack’s recently added a third lionfish prep to the menu, a lionfish tartar. Already available are two pan-seared fillets, one served with a pea puree and fiddlehead ferns, and the other topping coconut curry, lentils and basmati rice.
Chef de Cuisine David Rashty describes the meat as flaky and mild, like the fillets of flounder, sea bass or hogfish.
The population of lionfish has soared in the Gulf of Mexico because of the warm waters and the abundance of food, threatening the area’s marine life and reefs.