Menu innovation is coming at a faster and more intense pace as competition for customers heats up. In restaurant and retail foodservice, limited-time offers have become a popular way to introduce new menu items. Over the past five years, there’s been a 64% increase in LTO launches, according to Restaurant Business sister company Technomic.
And there’s good reason. Lauren Hallow, consumer insights manager with Technomic, dug into the data and revealed these findings:
• 68% of women say the introduction of innovative dishes is an important factor when choosing a restaurant to visit.
• 72% of millennials say new flavors and menu launches are an important attribute when visiting restaurants.
• 30% of QSR customers would visit a limited-service restaurant they don’t normally visit for a unique LTO.
Based on the Technomic Ignite menu concept development program, these are the essential ingredients for developing and marketing a limited-time offer or new menu item that’s right for your operation.
1. Set your objective
Is your primary goal to engage core guests for several weeks or months? Then an LTO with broad appeal and mainstream ingredients is the way to go. A riff on mac ’n cheese or a burger can spell success. Very unique or novelty items, on the other hand, may build buzz and drive traffic, but only for a short period of time. Starbucks’ Unicorn Frappuccino is a good example.
Niche items fall somewhere in the middle: They generate excitement with a niche audience and have the potential to attract new customers. These could be flavor-centric dishes and drinks with seasonal or emerging ingredients, such as a butternut squash salad spiced with za’atar. Niche LTOs can also identify a restaurant as innovative or trend-setting.
2. The gender divide
Males gravitate toward meaty items, with 73% saying they consume beef and 51% pork at least once a week. LTOs featuring burgers, burritos, bacon and ribs score high with men.
Women prefer cheesy items, such as mozzarella sticks, nachos, and Parmesan bread twists. According to Technomic’s consumer data, 50% of females choose cheese as a snack at least once every 90 days, compared to 36% of males.
3. It’s a generational thing
Gen Z customers seek portability, with 38% saying they are eating on the go more often than two years ago. LTOs that feature bowls, sliders and other handheld items appeal to this generation.
Millennials are into innovation: 65% enjoy trying different foods and 45% favor visiting restaurants that offer new or innovative flavors and ingredients. Recent LTOs that won with this age group include bacon Parmesan-crusted chicken and create-your-own lasagna.
4. Use descriptive, indulgent language
There’s no need to list every ingredient in an LTO, but be sure to include enough appealing adjectives and details. Craveability increased by 14% when cheesy tots were described as “crunchy outside, gooey cheese and warm potato inside” instead of “bite-sized rounds of diced potatoes and melted American cheese covered in breading.” A description can also drive purchase: 29% of consumers were more likely to order the first item after reading its description compared to 21% for the second.
5. Better-for-you sells
Consumers are more likely to purchase and pay a higher price for items that use healthy-sounding words in the menu descriptions. Forty-five percent are attracted by the word “fresh,” 38% by “made from scratch” and 38% by “real.” Also earning points are “premium,” “natural” and “clean.”