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Extreme Experimentation: Accommodating an Appetite for Flavor Adventures

Extreme Experimentation

48% of millennials will try a new food simply because it sounds interesting1

To accommodate the millennial market’s seemingly insatiable appetite for bold new flavor profiles, foodservice has been serving up a tour de force of taste adventures. The consumer’s culinary wanderlust is opening a world of opportunities for operators to innovate their menus, and national chains are stepping up to the plate.

According to the market research firm Datassential, 44% of millennials surveyed consider themselves foodies2and many gravitate toward options “that are visual and use unconventional ingredients in conventional ways.”2 Items they see as unique include Starbucks’ Zombie Frappuccino (73%), Shake Shack’s Eel Burger (75%) and Tropical Smoothie Café’s Avocado Smoothie (72%).2

Datassential research underscores the far greater likelihood of millennials than the overall population to favor international flavors such as cumin, gochujang and yellow curry sauce.2 Twenty-one percent love chipotle BBQ sauce, versus only 12% across demographic groups.2 What’s more, survey data from Technomic, a foodservice research and advisory company, shows that 66% of millennials would like restaurants to offer more ethnic fare.3

Foodservice’s Far-Flung Culinary Quest

The market’s taste for exotic experimentation is taking foodservice to obscure, remote regions for inspiration. The restaurant consulting firm Baum + Whiteman predicts that dishes from “the stans” (breakaway republics from the Soviet Union, including Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan) will gain traction in 2019.4

A culinary staple in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, plov is an example of the region’s rich culinary heritage. The dish typically features lamb or beef fried in a large cauldron with onions and yellow or orange carrots, but may also include sausage, eggs and occasionally, lemons. Sujuk, a meat sausage delicacy spiced with black pepper, is often served as an appetizer or together with dishes like plov.

As Baum + Whiteman explains in its 2019 Food & Beverage Trends Report: “Formerly lumped together as ‘Turkish’ food … which itself was lumped into kabab cuisine … they’re showing us new ways with noodles, beans and eggplant; new-old tricks with liver; how to marry meat and fruit; and what miracles happen when you chop tarragon, spinach, cilantro, dill, garlic chive and parsley together and toss them into a stew or a frittata or stuff them into a dumpling. Great kebabs, too.”4

Baum + Whiteman also anticipates the rise of Persian cuisine and sour flavor profiles from Iran. “[W]e’re seeing more Persian restaurants opening in the US, with the greatest concentration in LA,” they write. “Iranians are particularly partial to sour: rhubarb, sour oranges, fresh and dried limes, tamarind and pomegranate fit the flavor profile (example: At Sofreh, a hot new restaurant in Brooklyn, you get griddled chicken with tart bayberries and dried sour plums).”5

With roughly three in 10 customers looking for new and unique flavors at QSRs and fast casuals,6 expect operators to increasingly focus on internationally inspired hybrids and mash-up-driven menu innovation.

Taste, Touch, See, Sell: Foodservice’s Full Plate

It’s not just new taste experiences that are transforming the competitive landscape; creative colors, builds, shapes and textures are also taking hold, especially when it comes to limited-time offers.

Technomic reports that 35% of consumers surveyed concur that creative LTOs make them more likely to visit restaurants.7 The researcher cites Brick Burger’s LEGO-shaped burger varieties, Dagwood’s Glitter Pizza and The Inventing Room Dessert Shop’s Chocolate Popping Rocks & Grape Jelly Cotton Candy as examples of popular extreme LTOs that offer unique formats and texture experiences.7

With a smart mix of global inspirations and inventive pairings of tastes, textures and formats, extreme experimentation can help yield recipes for success in 2019 and years to come. Be sure to check out our Dessert Burritos Made with OREO Cookie Pieces as an example of the culinary ingenuity that caters to today’s consumer’s taste for adventure.

1 Datassential, FoodBytes (Feb. 2018), p.5
2 Datassential, p. 4
3 Technomic, Planning Program: Consumer Hot Buttons (June 2018), p. 18
4 Baum+Whiteman, 2019 Food & Beverage Trend Report (2018), p. 7
5 Baum+Whiteman, p. 10
6 Technomic, Future of LSR Consumer Trend Report (2018), p.11
7 Technomic, Planning Program: Consumer Hot Buttons (June 2018), p. 20



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