Profits vs. Pricey Proteins

Pork Schnitzel
Pork Schnitzel Bohemian House

Rethinking how proteins are purchased and used will help minimize waste.

It’s no secret protein prices have reached an all-time high. Beef prices continue to increase, which the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association has attributed to supply and demand issues caused by severe droughts and rising agricultural costs. As a result, many restaurants have aimed to recover food profits by reducing the portions of pricey proteins and by marketing smaller dishes, from steak bites to tacos, according to Technomic’s 2015 Beef and Pork Consumer Trend Report. Still, no chef wants a perception of lost value on any plate.

“The challenge in today’s market is that guest value is often perceived by quantity, and that’s difficult when protein prices are going through the roof,” says Jimmy Papadopoulos, executive chef of Bohemian House in Chicago. “We’re all in business to be successful but we want to continue to serve great food.”

Menuing a greater number of low-cost proteins, like chicken, and mixing them with other proteins and ingredients can help offset costs.

“We’ve seen a huge rise in the use of chicken as an ingredient meat for other dishes in all parts of the menu, from breakfast to appetizers, soups, salads, pasta, burritos, and wraps,” says Chef David Jetter, culinary and senior training manager for Tyson Foods. Some operators have swapped out veal and pork for more affordable chicken in meatballs, and even in sausage, he adds.

Last year, Mintel reported that 39 percent of consumers were eating less meat, driven by both health and economic reasons, but many still choose to eat meat when dining out. To satisfy this demand while also conserving cost, chefs are bulking up dishes with seasonal vegetables, beans, and interesting grains like ancient quinoa, barley, and nutty farro, as well as adopting creative strategies to boost profits and enhance the diner’s perception of value.

Serve Fun-Sized Value

The good news in an age of rising meat prices is that small plates have maintained their popularity. “Not everyone needs that giant steak anymore,” says Chef Papadopoulos.

Increasingly, chefs avoid serving huge hunks of meat by beefing up the menu’s appetizer, small plate, or snacks section with more protein options to replace costly center-of-the-plate entrées. After all, consumers continue to order multiple small plates instead of large entrées as their main meal, as reported in the 2013 Starters, Small Plates & Sides consumer trend report from Technomic.

Chefs can also make entrée-size meat dishes even larger so they’re sharable between two or more people, thus justifying a higher price point on the menu. And then there’s the trick of stuffing pricier proteins into quesadillas, pot pies, and pastas like ravioli, or using them as value-added toppers for mac n’ cheese, poutine, and other dishes.

At Bohemian House, Chef Papadopoulos makes a homemade spaetzle for the base of various beef dishes, including braised beef cheeks seasoned with caraway, marjoram, tomato paste, veal stock, and lots of Hungarian paprika.

It’s nothing new, he says, “People didn’t always have a lot of money so spaetzle was used as a filler to stretch the small scraps of meat they did have.”


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