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Beans offer boost for global flavor boom

Photograph: Shutterstock

American consumers are hungrier than ever for global flavors. Indeed, 68% of millennials and Gen-Z have gone out of their way to try a novel global food, according to Datassential. What’s more, 36% of consumers order global foods or foods with global flavors at least once a week, according to Technomic’s recent Ethnic Food & Beverage Consumer Trend Report. By adding globally inspired items to menus, restaurant operators can satisfy those cravings.

Global popularity

Legumes are a staple of virtually every global cuisine, thanks to their versatility, hearty flavor, high nutritional value and budget-friendly cost. Beans star in many well-known classic dishes from around the world: French Cassoulet, Italian Ribollita, Spanish Caldo Gallego, Mediterranean Hummus, Brazilian Feijoada, Peruvian Tacu-tacu, Mexican Frijoles Borrachos, Greek Fasolada, Caribbean Red Beans & Rice, Indian Chana Masala and Japanese Miso Soup—to name just a few.   

Try adding one of these authentic options to the menu—many consumers value authenticity when they order global dishes—Technomic’s Ethnic Food & Beverage report finds that food tasting authentic is the No. 1 traffic driver when consumers are deciding where to visit for global foods and beverages.

Translation techniques

While some restaurants may specialize in one of those authentic dishes, many operators are finding success menuing mashups of global flavors or ingredients with more familiar foods. Substitute hummus for mayo in a BLT, for example; top a pizza with Chicken Chana Masala or add umami to bean minestrone with a dollop of miso.

Another technique for adding a global accent to the menu is to incorporate exotic sauces and spices. Trendy sauces emerging internationally include palapa, a sweet and spicy pepper sauce from the Philippines; pilacca, an Italian fried pepper sauce; and doenjang, a fermented Korean soybean paste.

Some on-trend savory, smoky, earthy global spice blends are making their way onto American restaurant menus as well, including vadouvan, an Indian curry variation; shichimi, a Japanese mixture that includes sansho peppers, roasted orange peel, seaweed, hemp and sesame seeds; and supeq, a savory mix that blends seaweed, shitake, ginger, nettles and hot paprika. Any of these could be the next sriracha—experiment with existing menu items to see where these new blends might fit.

Marketing global-inspired menus 

How do operators entice customers and gain trial for menu items that may contain ingredients like seaweed, nettles and hemp? Combine the exotic with the familiar. Offer comfort foods such as chili con carne with palapa sauce, for example, or shichimi-spiced New England baked beans. Menu descriptions (and service staff) should clearly explain any unusual ingredients and unfamiliar terms and give tasting notes. Also, be specific when mentioning regions; consumers may respond better to menu descriptions such as “Korean” rather than the more-vague “Asian”; “Peruvian” rather than just “Latin.” Photos also help sell these unfamiliar dishes, as do social media-ready plate presentations.

Be sure to cite familiar brand names, too. According to Technomic’s 2019 Flavor Consumer Trend Report, 37% of consumers (including 44% of younger diners) strongly agree that they are more likely to try a new or unique item if it’s made with a brand they’re familiar with. So, if the house special, Caribbean Red Beans & Rice, incorporates Bush’s Best® beans, note it on the menu.

Offer global items in the format of small plates, too. Customers may be more likely to take a chance on an appetizer-sized portion of something unfamiliar rather than choosing it as their entree. LTOs are another way to test the appeal and viability of globally inspired menu items.    

Plant-forward

Plant-based proteins are a big deal these days as more “flexitarians” seek innovative and delicious dishes. Legumes of all sorts fit the bill. Over half, 58%, of consumers cite beans as a preferred meat substitute according to Technomic’s 2019 Center of the Plate: Seafood & Vegetarian Consumer Trend Report. Beans are high in complex carbohydrates, dietary fiber and folate, low in fat and cholesterol free. Replacing meats with beans lowers food costs while maintaining perceived value.

Versatile legumes

Beans can be international stars at every daypart and menu category. At breakfast, serve Huevos Rancheros or Gallo Pinto; offer a Spicy Blackeye Pea Soup and Torta Frijoles for lunch; menu Pasta e Fagioli or hearty Cassoulet for dinner; and offer Bean Dip & Bean Chips or Cheesy-Bean Nachos for an afternoon or late-night snack.

And although beans are most commonly found on the appetizer and sides sections of the menu, they can even be featured in global desserts—such as Azuki Ice Cream and custardy Navy Bean Pie. To get more menu inspiration, visit bushbeansfoodservice.com.

This post is sponsored by Bush’s Best®

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