Lawler Foods: Hot and Cool Trends
Keeping up with the next big thing without diminishing your bottom line.

Every year, some dessert becomes the hot, trendy item that virtually every restaurant has to have. “Last year was red velvet cake; everybody had to have it,” said Mike Lawler, president of Lawler Foods. “A few years before that, it was dulce de leche. Once one of the big dogs puts it in and it sells well, then it becomes, ‘Me-too, me-too, me-too.’”

However, Mr. Lawler noted that this is not a case of reinventing the wheel. Rather, the trend is to “revisit” such favorites as pineapple upside-down cake or brownies.

Many such concepts have yet to be tried on a commercial scale, he said. “But if you come up with an innovative item to mass-produce, it will be different than making it at a small corner bakery. But I don’t care what it is, someone has done it before. Even if you think you have come up with an inventive idea, someone has done it before on a smaller scale.” A big increase in risk occurs when asking a national chain to put a new item on a menu on a grand scale.

Instead, Lawler Foods chooses which trends it wants to follow. “We can’t jump on every single bandwagon, or we’d have 1,000 SKUs. You pick the ones that you think have legs, that you can sell to the big customers to make them cost-effective,” Mr. Lawler said. “Quite honestly, we didn’t jump into red velvet cake last year because I thought it would run about a year. And by the time you develop an item, get it through the system and into people’s mouths, that’s about the time they’re going to stop ordering it.

“Is that the smartest thing?” he asked. “Probably not. If we could go back to the end of 2009 and develop a wonderful red velvet cake, we probably would have sold a lot of it because everybody had to have a lot of it in 2010. Who knows what 2011 is going to be, but I don’t think it is going to be red velvet again.”

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