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New and improved

As the calendar flips from 2006 to 2007, gazing into the proverbial crystal ball becomes an increasingly popular activity. Those involved in the restaurant business are no exception. Figuring out the next “must-have” ingredient, hot product, trendy flavor or hi-tech innovation can certainly push a concept’s R&D, purchasing power or profitability ahead of the pack.

We want to help you figure that out. While we can’t predict exactly what will catch on next year, we can offer insight into what some of the top industry trendsetters and product developers have in store to help you make better buying decisions in 2007.

On the flavor front

Latin or Hispanic flavors continue to be the fastest-growing ethnic category in foodservice, claims Packaged Facts, a market research company. As the category has grown, it has segmented into 30 or so sub-sectors or niches. While products specific to Cuban and Mexican cuisine have dominated the restaurant industry, Peruvian, Guatemalan, Colombian and Dominican are becoming more visible. “Foodservice demands for new Latin flavors seem to be insatiable,” states Packaged Facts’ Latin on the Menu report.

To meet this demand, food manufacturers and importers are rushing to market with new products. Peruvian chili pastes, peppers and corn; Colombian tortas; precooked, seasoned meats, such as cecina, a marinated and cured beef; and tropical fruit beverages in flavors like guanabana and guava are some of the newest items for foodservice.

Coming in February, Simplot will have IQF flame-roasted piquillo peppers available in its RoastWorks line. These small, vibrantly colored peppers have long been a staple of Spanish tapas and other Latin dishes. And the Gilroy Foods division of ConAgra is bringing a wide assortment of controlled moisture chiles to foodservice buyers. The varieties include poblano, pasilla, habanero, ancho, chipotle and cascabel—all packed with proprietary controlled moisture technology that removes up to 50 percent of the water to decrease weeping during use. Both these items offer the authenticity operators crave in a convenient and readily accessible format.

Phillips Foods is using flavor transfer technology that works in a comparable way to the nicotine patch: seasoning is applied to food-contact approved film; when the film touches fish or meat, the flavoring particulates adhere to the protein.

Phillips’ R&D chef, Dennis Gavagan, had developed similar flavor sheets for cured salmon, in partnership with chef David Burke. The two Phillips products he launched are Peppercorn Tuna and Lemon Herb Mahi Mahi. “This technology delivers a perfectly seasoned piece of fish with a sophisticated flavor profile,” he says. In 2007, Gavagan expects to add wasabi plum, lemongrass ginger and bourbon barbecue flavor sheets.

Health and wellness

As restaurant concepts go after aging baby boomers and families concerned about childhood obesity, they are looking to differentiate the menu with good-for-you items. And manufacturers are obliging. Although foodservice has lagged behind the retail sector in getting healthier food products to customers, that’s changing as we head into 2007.

Whole grains are getting a big push in product and menu development as manufacturers and operators follow the USDA’s advice to eat three or more servings a day. (“Whole grains” are replacing “fiber” as a marketing term.) Some foodservice packaging is even showing up with the Whole Grain Stamp that’s printed on over 800 retail products, reports Cindy Harrington of the Boston-based Whole Grains Council, the originators of the icon. The graphic stamp indicates the grams of whole grains in a serving.

General Mills was one of the first on board when it reformulated all its BigG cereals to include at least half a serving of whole grains in each bowlful; the cereals are all either a good whole-grain source (8 grams) or an excellent source (16 grams.) ConAgra was another pioneer with its Ultragrain flour—a white, whole-wheat flour that combines the nutrition of whole grains with the color and texture of refined flour. Sandwich breads (such as Sara Lee’s Soft & Smooth Whole Grains White Bread), tortillas, coatings and other products based on Ultragrain appeal to mainstream eaters who aren’t  “health nuts” but want to eat more healthfully. As a follow-up, ConAgra is introducing Healthy Choice All-Purpose Flour with Whole Grains—a blend of Ultragrain and enriched white flour.

While Ultragrain was targeted to manufacturers and bakeries, Healthy Choice is being sold directly to operators to bake up healthier muffins, breads and pizza crusts in-house.

Research by USA Rice Federation revealed that whole grain brown rice and rice blends are key products of interest for foodservice operators—almost 45 percent of those surveyed use multi-rice blends. But restaurants that wanted to buy these whole grains in volume often had a hard time sourcing them. Now several companies market these products to foodservice, including Uncle Ben’s, SunWest Foods in California and Indian Harvest SpecialtiFoods in Minnesota.  New items such as SunWest’s Rice & Bean Medley (brown, red and black rice, pearled barley, black-eyed beans and split peas) and Indian Harvest’s Whole Grain Five (grano and four rices—wild, brown, Emperor’s green and red) make it easy to offer unusual whole-grain sides, salads and soups.

“We’re focusing more on whole grains than ever before,” says Mike Holleman, corporate chef at Indian Harvest. “Every year, we develop one new blend using a unique grain we haven’t tried before.” Black barley and red quinoa are two of the newest additions.

The next generation is here

Honey balsamic vinegar  The pairing of two honey-based ingredients—naturally brewed honey vinegar and caramelized honey—results in the first American-made honey balsamic vinegar for foodservice.

Haute franks  Snake River Farms, suppliers of premium American Kobe beef steaks and kurobuta pork, has come out with a gourmet hot dog. The upscale wieners are crafted from a signature recipe and hardwood-smoked.

Muffin pucks   Pillsbury Place & Bake Muffins use advanced freezer-to-oven technology to eliminate the labor of scooping batter and customizing muffins. These 11⁄2-ounce disks of pre-portioned batter, available in several varieties, can be placed and baked without thawing.

Artisanal lasagna   Stouffer’s spinach and goat cheese lasagna gives an old favorite a trendy twist with California chevre standing in for traditional mozzarella.

A bold pairing   Perdue’s salt & vinegar wings capitalize on a popular flavor profile first introduced in potato chips.

Caffeine jolt   Shock-a-Cino is a new hyper-caffeinated coffee drink mix dispensed from cappuccino machines. appuccino drinkers get 50 percent more caffeine per cup.

Tube of gold    Univer uses a special manufacturing technology to crush and preserve paprika into a flavorful puree. The result is Red Gold, available in mild and hot versions.

Whole grains in action

At Bruegger’s, a bakery café with locations in 19 states, whole grains show up in whole-wheat bagels and wraps and the newest item, the whole wheat Softwich. “One-quarter of our lunch business comes from the Softwich and now one-quarter of Softwiches we sell use the whole wheat carrier,” says Phillip Smith, director of new products and services. The Softwich, which is bigger and softer than a bagel, also comes in plain, everything, sesame and asiago flavors.

“We came out of the low-carb craze to find that consumers were looking for crusty breads and whole grains,” Smith notes. To develop the new Softwich, he and his team discussed how a whole-wheat version should look, feel, perform and bake up. “We didn’t want it to be too heavy, so we ended up using 51 percent whole wheat flour and 49 percent white flour,” he says. Since the denser flour requires more yeast, it took five iterations to get the bread to rise to Bruegger’s specs, but the final product “is consistent with our previous Softwiches and our bakery distributors don’t have to go to extremes to make it,” Smith adds.

Two whole wheat Softwiches debuted on the menu in September—Western Wheat (a breakfast egg sandwich) and Turkey Apple Cran. Bruegger’s displays the Whole Grain Stamp on POP posters and its nutrition guide.

Trans fats update

As some manufacturers strive to add whole grains, others are removing trans fats. It used to be that certain oils and shortenings were hydrogenated to extend shelf life and stability during high-temperature frying and other cooking. But hydrogenation also creates those evil trans fats that raise LDL (bad) cholesterol.

In the past year, Asoyia introduced a zero-trans-fat, GMO-free, 1 percent linolenic acid soybean oil that lasts 25 percent longer in frying applications. Conventional soybean oil is 7 percent linolenic acid—a fatty acid that turns oil rancid if not hydrogenated. But Asoyia’s ultra-low linolenic variety doesn’t require hydrogenation and produces better results. The farmer-owned company is now experimenting with other soybean varieties and new formulations to bring to market and expects to have a trans-fat-free blended oil ready for foodservice in 2007. 

We’re working with several donut manufacturers to create a blend that offers top performance and flavor in frying,” reports Richard Lineback, VP of sales and marketing.

Processors are using Asoyia and other trans-fat free oils in an ever-expanding group of products, including cheese sauces, non-dairy creamers and desserts. Among the latest is Galaxy Desserts of Richmond, California, a supplier of single-serve desserts. Jean-Yves Charon, Galaxy’s founder and pastry chef was an early adopter. “The low linolenic acid in the oil produces cakes and other desserts with no oily aftertaste,” he points out.

Starting with its zero-trans-fat Infinity Fries, Simplot has been a leader in zapping trans fats from its products. New on the roster are Tater Gems and Tiny Triangles—two kid-friendly crunchy potato products—and RoastWorks Seasoned Wedges. The latter is a bake-able potato wedge with a zesty seasoning of salt, pepper, onion and garlic.

Disease fighters

Chocolate is touted for its cholesterol-lowering phytochemicals. CocoaVia Heart Healthy Snacks in milk and dark chocolate (from Mars) and Cacao Reserve chocolate bars with crunchy nibs from Hershey are capitalizing on these compounds.

Acai (ah-sigh-ee), an antioxidant-rich Brazilian palm berry is the latest “wonder ingredient” in the beverage arena. Kerry Ingredients, a supplier to manufacturers, is incorporating freeze-dried acai crystals into drink mixes, marinades and seasonings.

Heart-smart organic shrimp have been developed by OceanBoy Farms, a shrimp producer out of Clewiston, Florida. These shrimp are lower in cholesterol and higher in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids as well as vitamins A and E.

Making it in the back door

Thousands of new products come down the pipeline each year. How do operators determine which ones earn a permanent place in their inventory?

Mike Pappas, corporate chef of Harry’s Seafood Bar & Grill, a multi-unit “polished casual” concept based in Jacksonville, Florida, always asks himself two questions before he commits: Who will distribute the product and how will it fit into the delivery schedule? “I have to evaluate its impact across all eight locations,” he says.

Necessity is top of mind, too. Pappas cites a recent desire to bring in pepper jack cheese to enhance a single appetizer. He decided against adding another SKU for just one item because he still needed plain Monterey Jack for a salad.

A new product must also compare favorably to what is currently in the kitchen. Dry scallops from China were cheaper, but were coming in too large and not as tasty. “I don’t make decisions based only on price,” Pappas explains. “Every product has to live up to our standards and be consistent in quality.”

Right now, he’s searching for trans-fat substitutes. “The oil in my deep-fryer will be easy to switch,” Pappas says, “but our grilled toast points have a unique taste that I don’t want to change.” The kitchen currently uses a branded liquid margarine and Pappas is “giving my present supplier first shot to source a zero-trans-fat product with the same flavor profile.”

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