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The next wave of snacking

ranch dressing dip snack

Whether they seek a quick fix on-the-go or a stand-in for a meal, consumers are continuing to snack around the clock. That means that for operators, snacks are now big business: Menu items featuring the word “snack” grew 103.8 percent from 2014 to 2015, according to Technomic. To appeal to this trend, operators are now innovating with snack flavors and formats and integrating small, flexible portions across all menu parts.

Drivers of the snacking boom vary across demographic groups, but the trend toward social dining and shared experiences is a huge driver of round-the-clock eating occasions. The National Restaurant Association’s What’s Hot 2016 Culinary Forecast lists small-plate menus as a top trend for 2016, and according to data from Technomic, approximately half of consumers say they like small plates because of portion control, value and the ability to share dishes with a group.

This means that operators have a big opportunity to boost check averages by catering to guests looking for shareable items. Chef Lance Gummere, co-owner of Atlanta concepts Bantam + Biddy and Chick-a-Biddy, says that the continued growth of shareables and small plates is a boon for foodservice.

“If you’re like me, you like to share your food when you go out to dinner,” he says. “But in order to share it, you’ve got to be able to identify it on your plate. We need to start feeding folks again.”

The return of ranch

This continued emphasis on snacking and shared experiences, along with a renewed interest in comfort-food classics, has helped bring about a renaissance for nostalgic flavors—especially ranch dressing.

Ranch flavor is the top ready-to-use dressing flavor shipped to foodservice outlets, reports The NPD Group, a leading global information company. Ranch flavorings appear in products ranging from dressings and dips to snack foods of all types, and new data from the NPD Group reveals the classic flavor will likely continue to take the lead among these food favorites.

And according to Technomic, ranch has grown 2.4 percent on menus year-over-year, especially with appetizers or starters and as a side item. Often, these menu items feature ranch in innovative applications perfect for sharing.

QSR chain Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, for example, recently launched Tabasco-spiced chicken tenders served with a smoky-spicy ranch dipping sauce. Similarly, steakhouse concept Logan’s Roadhouse offers zucchini fries served with a ranch dip on its shareable appetizer menu.

These types of dipping sauces also play to another trend driving menus today: customization. Particularly driven by younger consumers (think millennials and Gen Z), the opportunity to personalize a menu item or build-your-own dish a la Chipotle is something that today’s diners expect from all operators, regardless of segment.

To play to this trend, casual-dining chain Applebee’s included sweet potato fries with a trio of dips—barbecue bacon ranch, Sriracha chile lime and maple cream cheese—on its recently launched appetizer and bar snack menu. For even more options, the chain offers customers a chance to mix and match smaller “sampler” portions of the snacks to create a customized platter.

This post is sponsored by Ventura Foods®

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