Chefs looking to capture customer attention in 2014 should cast their gaze toward one of America’s favorite fruits: the blueberry.
Insights from menu experts Technomic, NPD Group, Mintel and the National Restaurant Association suggest foodservice operators will be focused on developing intriguing, convenient and healthful menu offerings and on meeting the preferences of influential customer groups like Millenials, Boomers and Hispanic-Americans – news with promising implications for blueberries.
Healthy Menus, Healthy Selves
Expect to see increased demand for healthful menu offerings, even if they come with a higher price tag. The rapid growth of the fast casual restaurant industry shows consumers are willing to pay more for foods they consider healthier or better quality, says FastCasual.com, a demand curve driven largely by Boomers with specific health needs and younger groups aware of the benefits of healthy eating. This extends to kids meals as well, says the National Restaurant Association, with fruit trending as a kids’ side option.
- Blueberries are a boon for foodservice operators looking to meet growing customer demand for healthier convenience foods. They’re low-labor, family-friendly and available all year round in various forms. Plus, they wear a health halo that illuminates any menu item or food establishment they touch.
Seeking Small Indulgences
Even with a focus on healthy eating, consumers aren’t ready to desert dessert, according to an article in Food Business News. Forty percent now eat dessert twice a week or more, and they’re drawn to customizable options and sample-size items that help them manage calorie intake. Women are especially apt to order these “small indulgences” that complement the “everything in moderation” approach to healthy living.
- In the dessert realm, blueberries help foodservice pros find their sweet spot. Their small size and robust flavor mean they’re perfectly suited to jazz up mini-desserts, their simplicity makes life easy for chefs and their nutrition profile gives consumers more motivation to purchase.
Expecting the Unexpected
New tastes, textures and flavor combinations are what appeal to Millenials, the generation currently eclipsing Baby Boomers in number and importance. According to Technomic, flavors like chocolate, strawberry and vanilla are losing ground to more exotic ones including blueberry, coconut and salted caramel. And in 2013, foodservice operators that “came out with something really different and unique” had big hits, says Nation’s Restaurant News.
- Pairing blueberries with other trendy items is one surefire way to hook Millenials – think blueberry burgers, donuts or dipping sauces – even a dusting of blueberry powder on ice cream could add enough of an edge to reel them in.
Influence from the growing Hispanic-American population will impact the popularity of fruits and juice-based drinks in 2014. Smoothies and juice bars may be just getting warmed up!
- Many forms of blueberries complement Latin-inspired dishes and drinks. Frozen blueberries are ideal for batidos or smoothies, blueberry juice and puree enhance margaritas and spritzers and the fresh ones work well in kid-friendly fruit tostadas.
As more people are made aware of the many ways blueberries fit in a healthy, dynamic lifestyle, demand for this star berry will continue to grow. Foodservice pros with an eye on the bottom line should take a closer look at the great potential of this little fruit. Visit littlebluedynamos.com/foodservice for chef-ready recipes and cooking tips.
By Emily Valentine
As a senior account executive at PadillaCRT, Emily has provided brand marketing and public relations counsel to clients including the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council (USHBC), The Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers and BISSELL Homecare Inc. Her areas of expertise include branding and image-building, food marketing and corporate social responsibility. Emily’s home base is Washington,D.C. where she loves running, biking and shopping at Whole Foods whenever she has the chance.