Economy influencing entree choices

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 21st January 2009

The weak US economy hasn’t just reduced restaurant traffic; it has influenced American diners’ choices in entrees. Many consumers are bypassing beef for less expensive proteins like chicken, says Darren Tristano, Executive Vice-President at foodservice consultants Technomic.

When ordering beef, and especially steak, explains Mr Tristano, they expect more quality, better cuts, aging and seasonings to justify paying a higher cost. Their expectations are reflected in emerging flavour and preparation trends and in menu descriptions.

Restaurant menu

Among other key findings in Technomic’s Poultry Consumer Trend Report and Beef & Pork Consumer Trend Report, which analyse over 500 restaurants brand menus and 3,000 consumer interviews, are:

* More than three out of five US consumers think that turkey (64 per cent) and chicken (61 per cent) are healthier than beef or pork.

* Among emerging full-service chains and independent restaurants, the top three preparation methods for beef were “cut” (as in hand-cut, center-cut or barrel-cut) at 16.7 per cent, “grilled” (13.3%) and “aged” (12.4%). These were often used together in describing specific beef entrees.

* Though consumers say they would like to order more ethnic and regional chicken dishes, restaurants have not yet met growing demand. Operators have increased their offerings of bolder, globally-inspired poultry dishes, but menu analysis reveals there is even more room for growth.

Compared to the population at large, students displayed interesting differences, including:

* The high protein content of beef was less appealing to students (39%) than to non-students (47%). However, students are more likely than non-students to think that beef is healthier than pork, chicken or turkey.

* For beef, students show increased interest in spicy, ethnic flavours such as chili pepper, chipotle and hot sauce, and less for traditional flavours such as garlic and black pepper. Such a finding solidifies research released earlier this year highlighting that Generation Y craves bold flavours that add excitement to their food.