Fashion is an industry famous for its natural-selection style of doing business. One day you’re in, the next day you’re out, as Heidi Klum preaches during “Project Runway.” The notion isn’t all that different from the one facing restaurants, says Stacey Kinkaid, senior director of product development at US Foods.
Each season, US Foods launches a Scoop lineup themed around a core principle: How can the distributor help independents and restaurant operators succeed? For this year’s fall iteration, Kinkaid says US Foods focused on trends, how fleeting they are, and if it could pinpoint the exact topics restaurants should zero on, and not waste time or budget chasing fruitlessly.
“How we came up with [this year’s them] ‘Food Runway’ was we were just thinking that food is really like fashion—it follows trends. And just like fashion, some food trends come and go: you see radish on everything over the last few years and it takes me back to when I was a kid and radish was really popular,” she says. “It comes and goes, as trends do. Just like in fashion.”
US Foods “Food Runway” banner is all about introducing the right trends at the right time, which aligns with its “Great Food. Made Easy.” strategy. It extends beyond that, too. For example, food isn’t just like fashion in that trends have a shelf life; there’s also a growing visual edge to the plate that challenges chefs like it challenges designers. While one might hope to spark a reaction on the runway, the other is looking to get their Instagram account buzzing.
US Foods broke down this fall’s Scoop lineup into five key trends: authentic global flavors, vibrant colors, a celebration of vegetables, New World butchery, and fine-dining 2.0.
As for landing on these topics, Kinkaid says it came down to mapping the life cycle of a trend. They use in-house expertise, and also mine information from partners like Datassential, to figure out which of US Foods’ funnel of ideas are ready to launch. “It’s called the adoption phase,” Kinkaid says. “That’s when you start to see trends in fine-dining at more adventurous fast-casual chains. That’s when we know, ‘OK, this is a trend that’s about to proliferate and we want to jump on board and help our customers by making that trend accessible to them on a national basis.”
According to Datassential, 54 percent of consumers want to try a novel global food. The National Restaurant Association also named authentic ethnic cuisine as one of its top food trends for 2018. No. 9 to be exact. As US Foods has addressed before in a partnership with Chef Marcus Samuelsson, one of the roadblocks between independents and this type of cuisine is preparation and unfamiliarity with ingredients. Additionally, accessibility is a major challenge for some.
Here are some highlights in US Foods’ Scoop lineup:
- Monarch Creamy Miso-Ginger Dressing: Made with miso paste imported from Japan, this dressing packs exotic, is subtly spicy ginger notes and a wealth of versatility with the rich umami flavor. It’s easily used as a salad dressing, dipping sauce, marinade or glaze.
- Chef’s Line All Natural Slow-Cooked Pork Shoulder in Achiote Sauce: Helping operators serve a traditionally labor-intensive Mexican classic, this slow-cooked pork shoulder features an achiote sauce made with traditional Mexican-style spices, including annatto seeds. It’s ideal for a torta ahogada sandwich or pork shoulder tacos.
- Chef’s Line Artisan Chia Ficelle Roll: Made using French bread-making techniques, the ficelle, (“string” in French) is known for its thin profile and is flecked with flavorful chia seeds throughout. It can be used as a unique sandwich carrier, table bread and more.
Kinkaid also highlihghts the Shishito Peppers. The Japanese native varietal green chili pepper, sourced from East Asia, are hand-picked and individually quick frozen. They have a two-year shelf life. Kinkaid says, despite being frozen, the product “performs very, very well.” In fact it surprised a lot of US Foods’ chefs in tests when they saw how consistently it stood up to menu applications.
Returning to the fashion angle, data from Instagram shows that, as of August 2018, about 290 million posts were tagged #food. Kinkaid says US Foods had fun putting together this part of the lineup, pushing the envelope and asking themselves, “are these trends people will actually come back to?”
“One thing that we saw as a trend in the market with Starbucks was when they had the Unicorn Frappuccinos out. And we said, ‘OK, how can we bring something similar to independent restaurant customers as well?’” Kinkaid says.
This ranged from adding color to product to presenting foods that naturally lit up the plate.
- Devonshire Premium Black Raspberry Ombre Cake with Vanilla Icing: Featuring four layers of progressively darker-hued black raspberry cake framed by sweet vanilla icing and gem-like sugar beads, this cake serves on-trend flavor in a stunningly sculpted dessert that catches your eye.
- Molly’s Kitchen Flamin’ Battered Onion Ring: With the heat of the sriracha outside and sweet onion inside, this vibrant red onion ring features no artificial colors and is the first flamin’ battered onion ring on the market.
- Cross Valley Farms Tropical Fruit Blend: This bright and colorful tropical fruit blend serves up luscious and sweet dragon fruit, mango, pineapple, oranges and honeydew, with no prep work needed. Use it as a tropical salsa or spoon it over yogurt in a breakfast bowl
Datassential reports that more than half of consumers say they are eating more fruits and vegetables than a year ago. Mintel data says one in five Americans claim to be consuming less dairy for health reasons. These aren’t new trends, but they’re lasting and escalating ones. US Foods responded with a bevy of options, including:
- Molly’s Kitchen Cornmeal-Breaded Green Tomato: Inspired by the regional southern trend, this versatile fried green tomato is now available nationwide. It features a cornmeal-crisp on the outside and a perfectly unripe tender inside that can be used in a variety of applications.
- Thirster Sweetened Almondmilk Beverage: Free of dairy, lactose and soy, this almond milk is formulated to steam at high temperatures, making it appealing for frothy barista drinks and vegan replacements.
- Thirster Unsweetened Coconutmilk Beverage: Made from Non-GMO Project Verified coconuts, this coconut milk froths at high heat and works beautifully in everything from lattes and cocoa, to curries, soups, smoothies and more.
New World Butchery
What was No. 1 on the NRA’s food trends list? New cuts of meat. According to Datassential, menu penetration for specialty-prepped meat has soared over the past 10 years. US Foods wanted to simplify this process for operators as well.
- Chef’s Line All Natural Bison and Pork Smoked Sausage Raised Without Antibiotics: Juicy and meaty with a rich, smoky flavor, this sausage is seasoned with a custom spice blend and smoked natural pork casing and contains no artificial ingredients.
- Metro Deli All Natural Soppressata Raised Without Antibiotics: Fermented and dry-aged, this artisan-made soppressata delivers mild and sweet authentic flavor and texture of southern-Italian style salami with no artificial ingredients.
- Stock Yards All Natural Pork Burger Raised Without Antibiotics: This take on the classic burger combines the rising popularity of nontraditional burgers and proteins raised without antibiotics for a new, versatile and cost-effective menu option with endless seasoning and flavor combinations.
The last category, US Foods arrived here on the notion that 69 percent of consumers want more restaurants with a casual atmosphere and high-quality food (Mintel/Skift Table). This is something affecting all corners of the industry. New-wave casual brands are influencing iconic staples, and concepts that once glossed over food in favor of atmosphere, like sports bars and grills, are finding the method to be a risky one.
US Foods created products “inspired by classic ingredients with an elegant twist,” including:
- Molly’s Kitchen Petite Pearls: These breaded pearl onions are crisp on the outside and tender on the inside for a “poppable” format to create an irresistible shared appetizer or topper for a cocktail.
- Chef’s Line Cookie Butter Tart: This buttery tart features a flaky bite filled with decadent speculoos (Belgian spice cookie) cookie butter for an ideal snack or after dinner dessert.
- Chef’s Line Smoked Maple and Bourbon Flavored Ice Cream with Praline Pecans: Only available through the fall season, this bourbon and maple syrup ice cream is infused with a maple syrup ribbon and gentle crunch of praline pecans and is made with a natural smoke flavor to complement the sweet taste of maple.
Another guiding theme taking place at US Foods are the clean-label profiles. As of July 2018, four of US Foods’ exclusive brand products—Metro Deli, Chef’s Line, Stock yards, and Rykoff Sexton—ditched more than 80 ingredients and food additives, including artificial flavors, colors, high-fructose corn syrup, disodium guanylate, sodium benzoate, and monosodium glutamate. Moving forward, the four brands will be produced without ingredients on US Foods' Unpronounceables List.
“All of the research we do [46 percent of millennials would be more likely to buy a product with no artificial ingredients] and the customers that we talk to tell us that it’s important. In terms of the journey to get there, I will not lie, it was a long way, it was a lot of work,” Kinkaid says.
It took US Foods more than two years to clean up the product lines. And throughout that time, it continued to add new clean-label products. “It’s not always the easiest option to develop those products, but that’s just part of our commitment to satisfy what our customers are looking for by putting that work into it,” she says.
US Foods is also taking a look at rising labor costs and creating products that streamline the cooking process for operators. A good example of this is the Scoop product Sous Vide Chicken Breast Strips in Batter. It saves time by removing the first two steps from the breading process. It’s also fully cooked using sous vide technology and has a 365-day shelf life. So operators can put “hand-cut” and “hand-breaded” on their menu, as well as “sous vide” and yet have a product that’s fully cooked. Cooks need to just open the bag, bread to taste, and fry up in a few minutes.
“We’re always trying to make our customers’ lives easier through all of the products that we develop, regardless of whether we’re focused on the latest trends or void they might have that we’re trying to fill,” Kinkaid says.