Turn Trends into Moneymakers

Nancy Kruse reveals 5 menu must-haves.

How do you get a roomful of foodservice professionals to sit up and listen? Nancy Kruse has the answer: "These are the absolute prerequisites for a successful menu. I don't care what segment of our industry you are in, if you cannot deliver on these five customer demands and expectations you'll be at a serious competitive disadvantage." This is how Kruse, well-respected trendologist and author of "The Kruse Report" (which appears inNation's Restaurant News), started her presentation at the 2013 National Restaurant Association's show in Chicago. We took notes on the rest, and then asked our chefs at the Kraft Culinary Centre to offer winning menu solutions that capture these sustaining trends on the plate.

1. freshness first

"Freshness is the number-one biggest driver of menu R&D," says Kruse. "Your consumers believe that freshness equals flavour, health and value." Freshness easily morphs into local. Kruse points out that fresh and local should be part of your menu branding, where points of origin (grown in the Fraser Valley) and grower identification (Smith Family Farms blueberries) can be called out on the menu. "Take credit for everything that you do," she says. "Reveal your ingredients. Your biggest sales vehicles are your menus and your servers."

kraft delivers freshness cues.

Baby Arugula, Kale & Endive Salad in a Crispy Radicchio Bowl Healthy Living

"This unique salad bursts with fresh, crisp produce presented in a unique carrier," says Barry Miles, corporate executive chef, Kraft Foodservice.

2. flavour synergy

"Your customers love to experiment within boundaries. Make the unfamiliar flavours approachable. One of the ways to do that is through flavour synergy," says Kruse. And for the North American palate, she says, look to sweetness as a familiar flavour to partner with a bolder one: sweet plus heat, like a pineapple-habanero salsa; sweet plus smokey, like cherry-barbecue sauce; and sweet plus salty, like salted caramel. "And the other flavour marriage that's new in the mass market with real culinary fingerprints is the marriage of sweet and savoury," she says. Think soy with a caramel offset.

kraft delivers freshness cues.

Maple Bacon Burger with Swiss, Mushrooms & Caramelized Onions

"Here, the Kraft Extra Aged White Cheddar Cheese Slice drapes the burger perfectly, standing up to the other bold ingredient combinations with that pleasingly sharp cheddar flavour," says Kira Smith, corporate chef, Kraft Foodservice.

3. premiumization wins

"At this point, your customers assume premium products are their birthright. It's the notion of affordability of luxury goods—getting something really good for not a whole lot of money," says Kruse. Today, premium value is best represented through ingredients and method. "You let your ingredients speak for themselves," says Kruse. And you express culinary values that show off housemade, chef-crafted items: pretzel-crusted, pan-roasted, handmade, fresh-baked.

kraft helps you convey premium values.

"Everything-Bagel" Crusted Salmon

"We make a delicious and familiar spice crust. It gives the entrée menu distinction, and when you crust it yourself, it reminds your customers that there's a chef in the kitchen," says Joseph Barin, corporate chef, Kraft Foodservice.

5. minis are still huge

Giving your customers choices that suit their tastes has never been hotter. "And nobody likes to have it their way more than the Millennials," says Kruse. From gourmet grilled cheese stores with bread choices, cheese choices and lots of topping choices to do-it-yourself sushi to self-serve yogurt shops with a myriad of flavours and toppings, diners seek out customizable options.

kraft helps you convey premium values.

Freeman Moser III, senior executive chef for Kraft Foodservice, called out customization as a mega-trend affecting all segments of foodservice. To help you customize, here's a plus-one and -two chart for sandwich spreads.

1. freshness first

"It's really about the small-plates phenomenon. This is so powerful from the customer point of view—sharing and grazing," says Kruse. Indeed, small plates, minis, tapas, bar food, snacks: They all help with experimentation, portion control, calorie count and cost considerations, and they're daypart flexible, she points out. And miniaturization includes building in choice, from entrée size to half portions to sides.

kraft helps you convey premium values.

Mini Caesar Bites Healthy Living

"We've done a lot of ideation around shareables, snacks and minis. This one's simple to execute and a nice twist on such a popular salad," says Aliza Katz, corporate executive chef for Kraft Foodservice.

upcoming trends
kraft delivers freshness cues.

BBQ Beef Brisket Sliders with Mustard-Stout Sauce

"I think beer is arguably the single hottest ingredient being used on food menus," says Kruse. From Guinness pies to craft beer-braised chicken, customers are gleefully responding to this infusion. It's yet another way to express a premium value, she says.

kraft delivers freshness cues.

Falafel Pita Sandwich with Yogurt Sauce

"Greek is the next big ethnic. The drivers are in place," says Kruse. Greek is riding the tailwind of Mediterranean cuisine and bouncing off of the red-hot Greek yogurt, she says. "Where do we go from here? I think we're going to continue our move around the Mediterranean and moving east to Lebanon, Israel, particularly street foods."