In the past ten years, the U.S. has become the top export market for prosciutto from Italy. According to a MenuTrends report from Datassential, it is among the top five—and fastest-growing—premium protein options for flatbreads and pizza, and is also regularly incorporated into pasta dishes, appetizers, and even desserts like grilled peaches served with ricotta and honey.
“We are thrilled to see the demand for prosciutto di parma continue to build in the U.S.,” says Paolo Tramelli, director of international marketing for the Conzorzio del Prosciutto di Parma. “We expect the demand to continue.”
According to Datassential, 91 percent of consumers either love or like pizza and are very likely to order it from a full-service restaurant menu. In order to capitalize on the appeal of this classic, many chefs are upscaling their offerings with prosciutto as a way to differentiate menus while still driving profits.
“There are three ways that restaurants are upping the ante on pizza,” says Gary Kolling, director of marketing for Lactalis. “Customization, new dayparts, and premium flavors.”
Italian dishes invite innovation, and restaurant operators are differentiating menus by elevating the style and ingredients of their offerings. Chefs who want to cater to consumer favorites and yet introduce new and engaging dishes are free to stick with current trends, or to even get ahead of the trends by using flavors that are not yet ubiquitous. Because pizza and pasta in particular are viewed by customers as reliable comfort foods, guests are often willing to try new variations on fundamental components, such as crust or add-ins. In addition to using premium meats like prosciutto, operators are incorporating a variety of cheeses in order to increase the profitability of different plates.
“So many cheeses can work well on Italian food,” Kolling says. “And while mozzarella continues to dominate the consumption in this country, a lot of restaurants are differentiating their offerings with surprising ingredients, such as manchego.”
The demand for familiar Italian dishes isn’t going away, but neither is consumer curiosity for new ingredients and fresh flavors. By starting with a customary base and then adding premium ingredients, operators and chefs will attract new customers and may increase menu sales across the board.