Read this month’s column really fast because the food industry is moving and changing at an unprecedented rate … and you can’t get left behind. The speed and scale of technology and social media are paving the way with consumers driving the culinary innovations they crave into the mainstream with Twitter feeds, Facebook postings and other new information points.
Casual-dining chains are responding to these cravings with more vibrant strategies for limited-time offerings and seasonal menus to compete with chef-driven neighborhood joints and super cool food trucks. To keep pace, non-traditional grocer-retailers are rotating products, especially frozen and refrigerated prepared foods, through their cases faster. Big CPGs are learning that smaller brands with a better sense of place, mission and purpose are acquiring shelf space and placement that has been “off limits” for generations of products.
Now take a deep breath and ask yourself if your company is being aggressive enough to compete in foodservice by supporting chefs with new and unique value-added offerings. A “Line of Grinds” might be good place to start, because with low investment in equipment and labor resources, you can add value to trim with unique cuts and grinds, seasonings and inclusions … in a hurry. In addition, interesting grinds are relatively risk-free because as consumer and chef preferences change (and they will again tomorrow) so can the flavor profiles you integrate into the Grinds.
Chefs will appreciate the Grinds because they’ll help keep their menus fresh and on point while providing versatility. For example, a ground beef seasoned with sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, basil and oregano can be formed into sliders. The same mix can be made into bigger patties and topped with a slice of breaded eggplant, tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese for a whale of a good burger. Wilted spinach and ricotta cheese can be mixed into the Grind then baked as meatloaf, or the Grind can be crumbled, cooked and added to lasagna. If an Italian flavor profile is too mainstream, make an Asian-style Grind of beef and pork with smoky hoisin sauce, green onions and fresh ginger for dumplings and pot stickers.
Another good strategy is to utilize beef, pork and lamb grinds together in various percentages based on chef and consumer preferences. Ground lamb burgers might be too intense for some people, but mixed in at 10 percent with beef, the Grind will have more flavor dimension and mystery.
A few more ideas … mix cooked or roasted vegetables for texture and color. Add sauces such as pesto, hoisin and curry for big flavor impact and a viscosity that easily blends with the meat. Cheeses can be a bit tricky to blend evenly â€” and they’re expensive too â€” so instead print a sheet with ingredient and cooking suggestions and drop it in the box with each order.
To ensure your innovation and ingenuity is noticed and drives sales, send out tweets and postings and allow chefs to place orders by tweeting and posting back. Value-added offerings supported by social media are a winning combination, but you better hurry up, or someone else may beat you to it!
Want a Chef’s Perspective? Write to me – firstname.lastname@example.org – and let me know your thoughts, questions and topics for future articles.