This is part of Nation Restaurant News' special coverage of the 2012 MUFSO conference, taking place Sept. 30-Oct. 2 at the Hilton Anatole Hotel in Dallas. Follow coverage of the event on NRN.com's ‘At the Show’ section, read onsite blogs from NRN editors at Reporter’s Notebook, and Tweet with us using #MUFSO.
As better burger concepts saturated the market, “better chicken,” might be the next big restaurant trend on the horizon, Nancy Kruse told MUFSO attendees.
Chicken was one of five “menu newsmakers” Kruse named in her annual “State of the Plate” address, in which she broke down trends driving culinary research and development in restaurants.
She noted that chains not typically associated with chicken were introducing menu items based on the poultry, such as Wienerschnitzel, which launched new Der Chicken Dippers. She added that McDonald’s launched a summer limited-time offer of Chicken McBites and was testing bone-in wings in some markets.
Specialty chicken restaurants, such as Bantam + Biddy in Atlanta — featuring pasture-raised rotisserie chicken by chef Shaun Doty — and Pecking Order and Leghorn in Chicago, were starting to gain traction.
Pecking Order, opened by local chef Kristine Subido, features Philippine-style chicken. Leghorn serves Nashville hots — fried chicken heavily spiked with cayenne pepper.
However, high commodity prices would likely put a hold on further development of new “better chicken” concepts in the coming months, Kruse said, as would the fact that established operators “are really going to double down,” with their offerings.
She cited Popeyes recent offering of Handcrafted Tenders with six signature sauces as an example.
Among other newsmakers were eggs, which she called the “ingredient of the year.” It has appeared in deviled form at Cracker Barrel, fried on a variety of Korean bowls in independent restaurants, and poached on top of family-dining chain First Watch’s salad The Poacher, a variation on the classic French salad frisée aux lardons, among other applications.
Greek cuisine also made news, appearing in a wider variety of applications, as was corn — from the Mexican street food-style corn on the cob called elote, to arepas at Bahama Breeze, to an array of corn dog variations. Corn also was an ingredient in California Pizza Kitchen’s guacamole, Kruse observed.
Crunchy food, including fried skin, was the fifth newsmaker.
Kruse cited chicken skin at The Catbird Seat in Nashville, salmon skin at Yusho in Chicago, pork skin at The Greenhouse Tavern in Cleveland, and duck skin at The Paris Club in Chicago. Other crunchy items included Baskin-Robbins’ new waffle chip dippers, Steak & Shake’s jalapeño crunch burger with crispy fried onions, and Taco Bell’s Doritos Locos Tacos, the most successful new menu item in the chain’s history.
Kruse also outlined five pillars driving menu development.
They were “freshness,” a key buzzword on menus for the past decade; flavor, which consumers continue to look for in larger and more varied forms; premiumization, giving customers higher perceived value that they’re willing to pay for; customization in response to a desire for guests to gain greater control over their experience; and miniaturization, allowing for portion control, cost control and a chance to share and taste more food.