By Alicia Kelso
It is always intriguing to talk to R&D/chef sources — those in the trenches who come up with unique menu offerings that both differentiate and appeal to the masses. I had an opportunity to chat with Rebecca Stone, CiCi's Pizza's senior director of Research and Development, recently and ask her what culinary ideas and flavors she is seeing in the industry.
She answered, simply, "big flavors" and "garlic." Of course the latter bodes well for a pizza concept, and CiCi's has added the profile to a few new creations in the past year to fit that trend. Stone also pointed to value, snacking/to-go options and nutritional food trends that have accelerated.
It's important, Stone said, for a product to be in test for at least four weeks and to heavily weigh franchisee and guest feedback.
"Sometimes a great idea doesn't execute when you get it out there. It has to translate well for your franchisees and customers," she said.
Fine dining's influence
Such great ideas come from "literally everywhere," she said — guests, franchisees, trade publications, industry organizations and shows.
Stone said, however, that fine dining is where most items are introduced.
"Those (fine dining) influences trickle down through the rest of the industry eventually. The unusual use of bacon is a good example of that," she said, referencing Burger King's bacon sundae launch.
So if fine dining is where it's at, then what is next? Coincidentally, the Summer Fancy Food Show was just held in New York City. The show featured more than 180,000 products from more than 2,400 food manufacturers, importers and entrepreneurs.
According to the Specialty Food Association, some emerging "fancy food" trends that were spotted at the show include:
Reinvented frozen treats
Grains and seeds in new places
Global meal starters
Retro mania done new
Other trends identified are single-serve snacks with calorie counts, Vietnamese flavors, chickpea and seaweed snacks, maple products and sweet and savory cookies.
Trends with staying power identified at prior Fancy Food Shows include coconut, salted caramel and innovations in gluten-free foods.
Alicia Kelso is senior editor of QSRweb.com and PizzaMarketplace.com.