Noodles & Co. this week rolled out slow-braised, naturally raised pork as a new add-on protein option on its menu.
The Broomfield, Colo.-based fast-casual chain offers various types of chicken, marinated steak, shrimp and tofu as add-on options, but this is the first time pork will play a starring role. In the past, pork has appeared as a secondary ingredient in meatballs, or in the form of bacon on a spinach salad.
More than half of Noodles’ guests add a protein to their dish, said Mandy Melby, a spokeswoman for the chain. “This rounds out the category,” she said. “We really feel this will be a game changer for us.”
Commodities experts are predicting higher beef prices, in particular next year following two years of drought across the U.S. However, Melby said that wasn’t the motivating factor, especially as all protein prices are expected to climb because of the drought.
For Noodles, she said, the primary motivation for the addition of pork was to add more variety to the menu. The chain also wanted to tap the versatility of a protein popular around the world in many types of cuisine.
“It’s a super tender, moist, mild-tasting pork that can be used to complement just about any dish on the menu,” she said.
The chain’s new pork was also developed with health in mind, said Tessa Stamper, Noodles’ chef and registered dietician. The pork has about 160 calories and eight grams of fat per serving. The meat comes from animals that have been fed a vegetarian diet and have been raised without growth hormones or antibiotics.
“We specifically developed this protein with nutrition in mind,” said Stamper. “It’s one of the leanest cuts from the pork shoulder — typically thought to be a rich and fatty cut. By cooking it sous-vide style, we lock in its natural juices and cook it low and slow for five hours. That keeps it incredibly moist, but not greasy.”
The result is a tender, mildly peppery shredded pork that can easily be paired with global flavors across the menu, said Stamper.
Guests can add the pork onto any dish for an additional $2.69.
To encourage trial, Noodles is also featuring the pork in two limited-time offers: a Barbecue Pork Mac, or macaroni and cheese with pork topped with crispy onion bites and a drizzle of barbecue sauce; and a Peppery Pork sandwich.
Noodles & Co. operates about 314 locations in 23 states.