Not so long ago, only a restaurant chain with the heft of a McDonald's or an Applebee's or a Red Lobster could get a major food manufacturer to produce ingredients, even entire menu items, just for them. But custom products aren't just for the big guys anymore. In the past five years manufacturers have turned downright eager to do business with smaller, growth-minded chains—even if it means shelving requirements of major production runs right from the start. Why the change?
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