Study: New menu items skyrocket in Oct.

CHICAGO Restaurant chains introduced a record-high number of limited-time offers and other menu additions this October as sluggish traffic prompted them to try new customer lures, according to a Technomic report.

The foodservice consultancy said its Menu Monitor service identified 547 new items in October, the largest number of menu additions in the past five years and 40 percent higher than the 2008 monthly average of 389. Menu Monitor studies menu trends at 250 restaurant chains.

Bernadette Noone, senior program manager at Technomic, said in a statement that the large crop of new menu items could be a response to the current economic climate, which has restaurants battling both rising costs and falling traffic.

"With consumers cutting back on eating out, restaurants needed to find new ways to bring customers through their doors," Noone said. "Many chains are using LTOs as a cost-effective way to trial new items before doing large rollouts."

Of the 547 new menu items in October, 157 were reported as "back" on the menu, 197 were LTOs and 193 were new items, according to Technomic's Menu Monitor.

New lunch and dinner entrees made up nearly half of the month's product introductions, with 273 new items, including Flavor Dipped chicken sandwiches [2] at Wendy's and a Country Fried Steak at Cracker Barrel. Desserts followed, with 96 new items, such as Au Bon Pain's Portions line of 2-ounce desserts [3] and Jack in the Box's Mini Churros [4].

New menu items in October also included 49 appetizers, such as T.G.I. Friday's Jack Championship Slider Sampler, and 48 breakfast entrees, such as IHOP's coffee cake pancakes. Menu Monitor counted 49 new drinks, which included 29 non-alcoholic beverages, like Carvel's Peppermint Mocha Blended Coffee, and 20 "adult" beverages, such as Bravo Cucina Italiana's Hot Buttered Apple Cider.

Menu Monitor also tracked 12 new healthy items, among them Cosi's Lighten Up! menu [5] of lower-calorie sandwiches and salads. The rest of the new menu items in October consisted of 17 side items and three "add-on" items.

The study noted that many of the menu items introduced in October were built around such traditional fall flavor profiles as pumpkin, as seen in Einstein Bros. Bagels' pumpkin bagel and cream cheese [6], Krispy Kreme's pumpkin cake doughnut, and Dairy Queen's Pumpkin Pie Blizzard. Other popular flavors in October were apple, cinnamon, pecan and chipotle.

For the latest LTOs and other new menu items, check out Food Watch [7] on NRN.com.