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Inspire sales by pairing familiar and innovative flavors and formats

Photograph: Shutterstock

Certain foods have the power to kick negative emotions to the curb because they immediately promote a sense of well-being and warmth. These comfort foods are often those that consumers connect to childhood or home cooking, such as brothy, slow-cooked meals, cheese-centric entrees and tender roasted meats.

Restaurant and foodservice operators often have to straddle the fine line between providing the classic fare that guests crave for comfort with innovative menu twists that keep more adventurous types intrigued.

Generations each have their own preferences for flavors. Interestingly, 35% of Gen Z consumers report they are more likely to stick with familiar dishes than try new ones, according to Technomic’s 2018Generational Consumer Trend Report. That’s more than other generational demographics, including Gen X, millennials, and baby boomers. Because Gen Z has a less adventurous palate than older generations, there’s an opportunity for restaurant and foodservice programs to use new takes on classic favorites and comfort foods to appeal to this demographic. By offering familiar foods and flavors with updates, operators can ensure diners feel confident about what they’re ordering.

Traditional comfort

According to Technomic’s 2019 Beef & Pork Consumer Trend Report, 81% of consumers believe beef is a comfort food and 75% believe the same of pork, making meats an appetizing anchor for classic or innovative comfort foods. Think burgers, barbecue, breakfast meats and pork chops. Serve these homemade-style or play with cooking methods and formats for a subtle twist. Try braising instead of roasting or smoking instead of baking meats. Or double down on the comfort craveability by offering a combination of comfort food dishes, such as pulled pork mac and cheese.

Innovative comfort

To meet Gen Z consumers halfway while engaging other generations’ preference for new flavors, operators should consider revamping traditional comfort food dishes with a modern flair. If serving ham, for example, consider adding a bourbon glaze to increase indulgence, or roasted fruit as a side. Get a little cheeky with breakfast by offering surprising entrees such as a breakfast sandwich with pork sausage and an apple-cinnamon slaw as a topping, with French toast as the bread. Familiar foods and flavors draw diners in, and innovative approaches seal the deal.

Healthy comfort

Another way to innovate with comfort food is to highlight health. Comfort foods are known for being heavier dishes, but as consumers’ definition of what’s healthy shifts from foods that are simply low-calorie or low-fat to including quality foods, all-natural ingredients and more, operators can call out health-halo descriptors to increase appeal. For instance, Curly’s All Natural Pulled Meats and Farmland All Natural Smoked Hams offer those seeking natural meats a perfect option.

Global-inspired comfort

Technomic’s 2018 Ethnic Food & Beverage Consumer Report found that 40% of consumers say the reason they would purchase an ethnic food is because they were craving that specific food. To attract these diners, try offering comfort foods with unexpected sides. For instance, it could be as simple as offering brisket with a side of on-trend kimchi, or using corned beef in an Irish-inspired egg roll appetizer. Again, don’t forget about breakfast. It’s the perfect mealtime to wow with global flavor twists on comfort food, such as a handheld breakfast bacon arepa.

Whether serving traditional comfort food or giving those staples an innovative twist, it’s clear that beef and pork offer a satisfying base for popular classics or can serve as the launch pad for an interesting and craveable meal.

This post is sponsored by Smithfield Culinary