In a 180-degree turn from its popular “endless” deal promoting all-you-can-eat shrimp, Red Lobster is going small. The seafood chain recently launched Tasting Plates, creating a new menu section featuring snack-sized dishes with global flavors. “We heard from guests that they want to eat with us more often … and in different formats,” says a spokesperson for Red Lobster. “The Tasting Plates provide a variety of ways to try new flavors at an affordable price point [averaging $4.99].”
Dragon Broccoli, the fiery-sauced non-seafood item in the lineup, fits that description and resonates with consumers. According to Technomic’s MenuSurf, close to 87% of potential female purchasers gave it high marks for uniqueness and 59% of men found it craveable. Although Red Lobster won’t disclose sales figures, the new items are selling well, says the chain. In January, the first full month after the Tasting Plates debuted, sales were up 10% and traffic increased by 12% compared to the previous two months, per Technomic’s Transaction Insights Program.
Millennials were most likely to order the menu item, with almost half saying they would buy it. And men were more likely to purchase the snack than women.
Younger diners tend to have more adventurous palates, satisfied by a craving for bolder, spicier flavors. MenuSurf data supports this preference; 70% of Gen Zers gave Dragon Broccoli a high craveability score.
Selling the heat
The word “dragon” in the name cues customers into the broccoli’s spicy Asian flavor—a profile Red Lobster’s guests are seeking, as revealed by the chain’s consumer research. For service, the broccoli is fried crisp, then drizzled with a sweet-spicy sauce and showered with fried chili peppers and green onions. The same prep and name is used with Dragon Shrimp, a new item on Red Lobster’s Globally Inspired entree list.
Although Red Lobster is a seafood restaurant and focuses most of its menu on fish and shellfish, the chain jumped on the veg-forward trend with Dragon Broccoli. About two-thirds of consumers now would consider eating veggies as snacks, per Technomic’s Snacking Occasion Consumer Trend Report, saying bold sauces and global ingredients boost their appeal.
Profiting from a new category
In testing the new menu, Red Lobster discovered that customers order the Tasting Plates in a variety of ways. Some guests like them as an add-on—a small bite that leaves room for a big dinner—while others opt to order a bunch to share or select a few to make an individual meal, says the spokesperson. “The flexibility of the menu, in addition to the interesting flavors, makes it very appealing to guests.”
Red Lobster’s Dragon Broccoli; $4.99
Last month’s LTOs with the greatest consumer purchase intent skew toward comfort foods—not a big surprise, with colder-than-average temperatures hitting most of the U.S. Hearty breakfast plates, meaty meals and indulgent desserts scored high. But consumers also favored several fast-food staples, including chicken strips, a fish sandwich and french fries. Click ahead to see the 10 most appealing limited-time chain items from December through January, ranked from 10th to first, as indicated by Technomic’s MenuSurf survey, powered by Ignite. (The canvass of 500 consumers on purchase intent for 100 or more LTOs shows which are the most likely to be ordered on the basis of the item’s name and description.)
For the first time ever, Taco Bell is offering french fries, having launched three nacho fries variations in January. The Nacho Fries Supreme features thick-cut fries dusted with a spicy Mexican-flavored seasoning, then topped with beef, nacho cheese sauce, sour cream and chopped tomatoes. It sells for $2.49. More than 72% of consumers found this version of the fries craveable, with the figure rising to over 77% for women.
Arby’s, known as the chain that’s “got the meats,” ranked ninth in purchase intent among consumers for its Crispy Fish Sandwich. The sandwich has four components: a crisp-fried fillet of wild Alaskan pollock layered on a sesame seed bun with tartar sauce and shredded lettuce. Interestingly, Arby’s debuted another seafood LTO during this time period that didn’t fare as well; only 44.4% of consumers said they would order the King’s Hawaiian Fish Deluxe Sandwich. This item features the same Alaskan pollock fillet topped with cheddar cheese, tomatoes, lettuce and tartar sauce on a King’s Hawaiian bun.
For the first time, a menu item from a convenience store made it into the top 10 LTOs in purchase intent. WaWa’s Chicken Club Flatbread is one of three sandwiches that debuted in the c-store’s new flatbread line, all made to order with fresh ingredients. Parmesan cheese is baked into the bread, and the filling consists of roasted chicken, applewood smoked bacon, provolone cheese, spinach, tomato and ranch dressing. The Chicken Club beat out WaWa’s two other new flatbreads: Tuscan Turkey and Santa Fe Chicken.
This indulgent dessert tied with WaWa’s chicken flatbread sandwich in purchase intent, with a score of 56.2%, but ranked higher among consumers for its craveability—66.17% found the cheesecake craveable, compared to 53.73% for the flatbread. The combination of oven-baked Granny Smith apples, cream cheese, graham cracker, warm salted caramel sauce and vanilla gelato created cravings in two-thirds of consumers, and a majority were tempted to order the dessert from its description.
Aside from its Nacho Fries variations, Taco Bell scored well on another LTO this winter. The $1 Stacker—with a purchase intent of 56.4% among consumers—kicked off the chain’s promotion to add 20 new Dollar Menu items throughout 2018. The Stacker, which consists of a tortilla folded over beef, nacho cheese sauce and a three-cheese blend, debuted Dec. 21 on Taco Bell’s Dollar All Day Menu. It scored highest among millennials, with 62.22% saying they would order it.
Taco Bell’s basic Nacho Fries, introduced in January as part of the chain’s Dollar Menu promotion, scored a few points higher than the loaded version. The item features the same Mexican-seasoned thick-cut fries, but instead of being doused with cheese sauce, they’re accompanied by a small cup of warm nacho cheese for dipping. Taco Bell pushed out the fries’ debut on Jan. 25 with a big social media splash, but Twitter feedback has been mixed.
Roy Rogers brought back two dinner platters for a limited time in January, both featuring a protein and two sides. More than 63% of consumers said they would purchase the beef platter, with men skewing a bit higher at 66.93%. It features an open-face roast beef sandwich topped with gravy; side choices include mashed potatoes, coleslaw, baked beans and mac ‘n’ cheese.
The Country Scrambler Plate from Jack In The Box earned the No. 1 spot in purchase intent among January’s LTOs. Seventy-two percent of consumers said they would order this item, underscoring the appeal of quick-service breakfast. The LTO is part of the chain’s Brunchfast menu—a line of heartier breakfast dishes served all day. The Country Scrambler Plate includes scrambled eggs mixed with bacon, ham and melted cheese, three sausage links and homestyle potatoes sauteed with bell peppers.