Grain-based foods grab menu spotlight
Gluten-free items may have a place on menus, but grain-based foods, including those with gluten-containing wheat flour, still have starring roles in the restaurant industry due to the promotions of buns and pizza crust as artisan. Also benefiting the grain-based foods industry are an increasing variety of noodle options and donut chains expanding geographically.
The Wendy’s Co., Dublin, Ohio, has led the charge in artisan bun and bread promotions. On Jan. 27 the chain introduced a ciabatta bacon cheeseburger. The bun with a light, airy texture is produced on an artisan line and is sliced and baked, which means no two ciabatta buns are exactly the same, according to the company.
The launch followed an active 2013, which Craig Bahner, chief marketing officer for Wendy’s, called the company’s “year of the bun.” In March 2013, Wendy’s introduced flatbread grilled chicken sandwiches. The flatbread featured the five grains of flax seeds, cracked wheat, rolled oats, millet and sesame seeds.
The pretzel bacon cheeseburger followed in July. The bacon portabella melt on a toasted brioche bun appeared at Wendy’s in November.
“We’ve made our bacon portabella melt even more irresistible with a new brioche bun, the kind you’d expect a French chef to make, but at a quick-service price and convenience,” Mr. Bahner said at the time of the product launch.
Sonic Drive-In also joined in the pretzel trend. The company on Jan. 30 of this year brought back its pretzel dogs by offering a cheesy bacon pretzel dog, the original pretzel dog and a new chili cheese pretzel dog.
“The customer demand for our pretzel dogs last summer blew our sales projections away, selling four times more than anticipated,” said James O’Reilly, chief marketing officer at Sonic Corp., Oklahoma City. “We’ve been serving premium hot dogs for a few years now, and they have always done well for us, but the introduction of the pretzel bun at the start of its popularity really pushed the pretzel dog beyond expectations. Though it started as a limited-time offering, our consumers loved it so much that we knew we had to bring back the pretzel dog with a new twist.”
Two pizza chains also promoted their products as artisan.
Pizza Hut, a subsidiary of Yum! Brands, Inc., on Jan. 16 introduced hand-tossed pizza that features a lighter, airier crust.
“Our new hand-tossed pizza has been years in the making, and we believe we’ve delivered the best tasting pizza in the category,” said Carrie Walsh, chief marketing officer. “For a long time consumers have looked at hand-tossed as the ‘white bread’ pizza of the category, and we set out to completely blow up the notion that all pizzas are created equal.”
Domino’s Pizza on Feb. 4 announced an ad campaign featuring team members who create handmade pan pizzas.
Grain-based foods certainly had a place on restaurant tables. Technomic, a Chicago-based food service research and consulting firm, ranked carbohydrates as one of its 10 trends for 2014.
“Starches are staging a comeback — from ramen to buckwheat noodles to pasta made with unusual ingredients,” Technomic said. “Rice bowls (and jasmine rice, basmati rice, brown rice) will be big, in part because of continued fascination with Asian fare and in part because of an association with healthfulness.
“Look for more in the way of flatbreads, wraps and all kinds of artisan breads, including healthy whole grain varieties. Waffles as a base or side make traditional savory items like chicken seem edgy.”
Technomic listed “day for night” as another top 10 trend. People at restaurants are starting to eat breakfast for dinner more often and vice versa, Technomic said.
“More restaurants are introducing innovative breakfast items, like chicken, turkey or steak breakfast sandwiches or super-spicy wraps with chipotle or sriracha, often available all day,” Technomic said.
The Washington-based National Restaurant Association, meanwhile, presented a 2014 culinary forecast. Among the top 20 trends, gluten-free cuisine came in at No. 5. No. 8 was non-wheat noodles/pasta (for example quinoa, rice and buckwheat). No. 12 was whole grain items in children’s meals.
The N.R.A. forecast ranked non-wheat noodles/pasta as the No. 1 item for starches/side dishes, followed by quinoa, black/forbidden rice, red rice and pickled vegetables.
Noodles & Co., Broomfield, Colo., presented positive noodle news on Jan. 13 when it announced preliminary unaudited financial results for the fourth quarter ended Dec. 31, 2013. Total revenue was expected to increase 17.4% to $91.5 million, which would compare to $77.9 million in the previous year’s fourth quarter.
Finally, chains selling donuts were heading west.
Dunkin’ Donuts, Canton, Mass., on Oct. 7, 2013, announced the signing of a multi-store development agreement with existing franchisees to develop 18 new standalone restaurants in California. Krispy Kreme Doughnut Corp., Winston-Salem, N.C., on Jan. 21, 2014, said it had signed a development agreement with existing franchisee Great Circle Family Foods, L.L.C. to develop 20 new donut shops in California over the next seven years.
In general, the restaurant industry appears to be growing. The N.R.A.’s “Restaurant Industry Forecast” projects restaurant and food service U.S. sales to reach $683.4 billion in 2014, up 3.6% from 2013.