Comfort foods—items that invoke feelings of nostalgia and that feature familiar flavors—are time-and-again consumer favorites. But though familiar foods and formats are ones that diners love to eat, about two-thirds of consumers (65%) say they like trying new flavors from time to time, according to Technomic’s recent Flavor report. For those diners, updated comfort food classics are a great menu option. For instance, updating sauces, trying new toppings or sampling a new preparation method are all great ways for operators to offer the foods consumers want, all while offering exciting and interesting options that will keep diners coming back for more.
So, what can operators do with comfort food classics to make them new and exciting to diners who want to try something new without alienating those who want their familiar favorites? Here’s three tips.
Consider new cheeses
Mac and cheese is a menu staple for a number of reasons. It’s appealing to both kids and adults alike, it’s versatile and it can be made with just about any combination of cheeses and toppings. According to Technomic’s MenuMonitor, some of the fastest growing cheeses in macaroni and cheese dishes include mozzarella (up 15.8% year-over-year on menus) white cheddar (+14.7%) and parmesan (+14.3%). Using new cheeses, like white cheddar, that are familiar while still being interesting, offers consumers something new to try without having to worry that they won’t like an item. Highlight a dish like white cheddar macaroni and cheese on menus and be sure to ask diners what they think of the new flavors.
Offer exciting toppings
Burgers are another comfort food that’s perfect for updating. Changing up the type of protein used or using a different type of cheese are a great place to start, but offering new and unique combinations of toppings are where operators can really flex creativity. According to MenuMonitor, the fastest growing burger ingredients are Canadian bacon (+27% on burgers year-over-year), hot sauce (+23%), cheese sauce (+23%) and cherries (+16%). Operators can also upsell more indulgent toppings like fried macaroni and cheese bites, battered hot peppers, onion rings and more. Customization is a big trend across the menu, and that extends to topping options as well.
Toppings are also great for macaroni and cheese, barbecue sandwiches and more. Operators can offer options like bacon or sun-dried tomatoes for the former, and pickled veggies for the latter, just to name a few.
Experiment with condiments
Although comfort foods such as pulled chicken, tacos and hot dogs are all known for their condiments (like barbecue sauce, taco sauce and mustard, respectively), there’s many more that can be explored to elevate comfort foods. For instance, harissa can be added to pulled chicken to add heat to the popular barbecue dish, while chipotle mayo can offer a creamy kick for tacos and a combination of blue cheese dressing and buffalo sauce is great on hot dogs.
Comfort foods like macaroni and cheese can also benefit from unique condiments. For instance, a drizzle of sriracha or hoisin barbecue sauce can add a new layer of flavor that customers will crave again and again.
Updating comfort foods with small tweaks like new cheeses, toppings and sauces presents an easy way for operators to keep diners interested in familiar foods, all while giving those looking for the classics something to branch out to.
This post is sponsored by Stouffer’s®