Food Trends | Menu Planning

Local Flavor Trends: How Can They Fit In Your Menu?

Jun 15, 2019

Local Flavor Trends: How Can They Fit In Your Menu?

Looking for ways to stay ahead, menu-wise?  

Read on and create your next menu hit. Once flavors hit the mainstream, seems like customers just can't wait to try them. What's hitting the mainstream now are tomato jam, charred items and Nashville hot. Breakfast, lunch or dinner, there's a way to incorporate these new in-demand flavors into your menu.

Tomato jam is the new salsa

We first took note of tomato jam in 2008, when it was seen on just 0.2% of menus. Since then, the number of menus offering tomato jam-dressed items has grown 771%, showing that it has arrived.1 Our research shows that it is predicted to be one of the top menu growth items in the next four years with 39% of consumers saying they are familiar with tomato jam, and 10% saying they love or like it.2

Tomato jam is an instant hit with most diners, with options to make it your own, from sweet to savory, or hot and spicy to warm and homey.

Start with tomatoes, then add some brown sugar and apple cider vinegar, some salt and then check out some options to give it your own kick:

  • Ginger and cinnamon
  • Red pepper and cumin
  • Lime and jalapeño
  • Garam masala
  • Smoked paprika
  • Bacon

What can't you put tomato jam on? It goes with nearly everything! Here's a look at how it's showing up on menus today: 3

  • Appetizers (combos, fries, fried veggies, dips, breads, etc.): 5%
  • Burgers: 21%
  • Hot or cold sandwiches: 21%
  • Main dishes: 5%
  • Egg dishes: 2%
  • Pizza: 2%

Get started by substituting tomato jam for any condiment you offer on your current menu items. Bruschetta made easy with tomato jam. Or how about livening up chicken satay with tomato jam instead of peanut sauce? Tomato jam is suitable for gluten-free and vegan/vegetarian options where flavor always rules.

Charred items

With open-flame cooking and wood-burning stoves and ovens becoming popular, charring foods is a natural next step. Charring adds a unique texture, a smokiness and a level of complexity not seen through standard grilling.

Charred food is intentionally blackened, just a bit, to create a new flavor profile on standard items like fish, shellfish, steak, vegetables, and even condiment and sauce ingredients (think red peppers, tomatoes, onions, even charred lemon). Beer? There's even char-flavored beer. There isn't much you can't char!

And there's hardly a cuisine that doesn't work with charring. It's about an even split right now, between ethnic and non-ethnic menus offering charred food items. Here are some numbers, showing a breakdown of the types of restaurants who currently offer charred dishes: 4

  • American: 34%
  • Mexican:12%
  • Italian:10%
  • Mixed ethnicity:9%
  • Steakhouse:5%
  • Pizza 4%
  • Seafood: 4%
  • Sandwich:4%
  • Mediterranean:3%
  • French:3%
  • Chinese: 3%
  • Other Asian: 3%

But here's where it gets really interesting; flavor pairings. What's going to work best in taking the char texture and smokiness and creating a memorable dish? Onions, tomatoes, salads, peppers, corn, potatoes, garlic, lemon, green beans, avocado, vinaigrette, salsa, pickled: Pick any two, put them together using charring as way to create a new flavor pairing.

While some new flavor profiles might lend themselves more to one menu application than another, charring works with a wide variety of dish types. From appetizers to entrees, vegetables to fruits, cold salads and hot sandwiches, charring offers new twists on existing customer favorites.

Nashville hot

In the "everything old is new again" category, Nashville hot wins! Created in the 1930s, Nashville hot is a spicy spin on southern fried chicken, bright red and buttery, and catching on fast.

Our research shows that 34% of consumers have heard of it, 12% love or like it, but fewer than 1% of menus offer it, and it will double in offerings in the next four years. 5, 6 Pringle's and Lay's have already offered it in special editions of their chips!

The basics for Nashville hot are chicken, marinated in buttermilk brine, then covered in flour and spices double-fried and finished with a bright red butter paste that incorporates cayenne pepper, garlic powder and paprika, among other spices. Served topped with pickles, Nashville hot has been a southern comfort food popular for nearly 90 years.

Incorporating Nashville hot into your menu can mean looking at where you offer hot and spicy foods now and adding the Nashville hot profile:

  • Chipotle cheese sauce to Nashville hot cheese sauce
  • Buffalo chicken to Nashville hot chicken (wings, strips, salads, pizza topping)
  • Chorizo sausage to Nashville hot sausage

Just add a Nashville hot fried chicken sandwich or strips to your menu, and don't forget the pickles!

1 Datassential: Tomato Jam the SNAPTM food profile, 2018
2 Simplot Foods Webinar: 2019 Top Foodservice Flavors /Foods to Watch and How to Leverage Them
3 Datassential: Tomato Jam the SNAPTM food profile, 2018
4 Datassential: Charred the SNAPTM food profile, 2019
5 Datassential: On The Menu: August 2018
6 Simplot Foods Webinar: 2019 Top Foodservice Flavors /Foods to Watch and How to Leverage Them