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It's the extras that count

Today more than ever, flavor is a priority for restaurant patrons—and even the smallest details count.

sauce dip spread dressing mayo restaurant signature condiment

A recent report from Chicago-based research company Technomic revealed that consumers place great importance on the quality of condiments and spreads in sandwiches. In fact, it increased from 51 percent in 2012 to 67 percent in 2014. However, bread, meat and cheese quality changed very little for consumers in the same time period—roughly 5 percent, on average.

The takeaway: The basic elements of a dish matter much less to consumers than the dressings, sauces and toppings that give it distinct flavor—and distinct personality. Across the board, consumers continue to seek out customizable options and bold flavor on menus. Offering guests a choice of unique, flavorful dressings and condiments can be an easy way for operators to meet both of these needs.

The heat is on

As consumers have embraced the global-flavors trend, spicy flavors and heat have become more mainstream. “For the first time since we’ve been tracking this, more consumers say they like spicy foods,” says Mary Chapman, senior director for product innovation at Technomic. “A majority of people in general are looking for that next element of flavor.” Sour, vinegar-based flavors that have a distinct “tang” are also gaining popularity.

And consumers’ ever-expanding palates spells nothing but opportunity for operators. “If a sandwich is made with a delicious spread or food is served with a dipping sauce that people go crazy over and can’t get any old place and can’t make at home, then that draws consumers in,” says Chapman.

Operators who are leveraging the spicy-flavor trend are seeing sales success with it. U.S. Taco Co., the new fast-casual concept from Yum! Brands serves its fries with both jalapeño ranch and ghost-chile ketchup dipping sauces. In the same way, casual-dining chain Applebee’s recently added shareable plates with Sriracha shrimp and sweet chile brisket sliders to its new bar menu.

Real ingredients, cleaner labels

The push for healthier menu options is another trend with staying power, as restaurant-goers continue to look for ingredients that meet their individual requirements for health and wellness when dining away from home.

Although consumers are still conscious of overall calories and nutritional values, many are even more interested in where their food comes from and in eating foods close to their unprocessed, natural states. The National Restaurant Association rated natural ingredients and minimally processed foods as the year’s fifth most important food trend in its What’s Hot 2015 Culinary Forecast. In the same way, “natural” is one of the fastest-growing health claims at fast-casual restaurants, according to Technomic.

Offering dressings and condiments with cleaner labels and more natural or minimally processed ingredients, such as dressings made with Greek yogurt or sauces made without high-fructose corn syrup or MSG, can be a way for operators to leverage this trend.

Having it their way

“The trend is customization,” says Chapman. “Having food the way we want it is very important, particularly how flavor is imparted, not just from the restaurant, but from things that can be added, such as spices and condiments,” she says. “That’s even more compelling to customers. Having a variety and choice transcends all levels of dining.”

A separate Technomic study found that 75 percent of consumers said the overall combination of ingredients, seasoning and sauces in a food item is what appeals to them most. In that same report, 62 percent said that spreads and condiments have the greatest appeal when it comes to imparting flavor.

This emphasis on condiments provides an easy way for operators to offer make-it-your-way menu items. For example, Uno Fresco, the fast-casual off-shoot of casual-dining chain Uno Pizzeria and Grill, includes both chipotle aioli and marinara dipping sauces with its pizza roll appetizer. These types of sauces can be a draw; 43 percent of consumers said they’re tempted to order items with unique condiments or sauces, according to Technomic.

Bonus: Operators can position menu items that include condiments with upscale-sounding names—such as Uno Fresco’s chipotle aioli—as premium choices, and they can charge accordingly.

For more information about how to create signature, show-stopping dressings and condiments, visit www.litehousefoodservice.com.

This post is sponsored by Litehouse Foodservice

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