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Fruit Is Moving to the Center of the Plate

According to Datassential, 89 percent of consumers like or love fruit—and it isn’t just for breakfast and dessert anymore. Fruit is taking the spotlight in dishes across menu parts and dayparts. From grilled pineapples served on a skewer to sauteed jackfruit as a textural replacement for meat, creative and savory fruit offerings are exploding on menus.

“Almost everyone has some nostalgic attachment to a fruit dessert, whether it’s strawberries and cream, a blueberry pie, peach crumble, or ripe mango on the beach,” says Executive Chef James Bickmore-Hutt, culinary R&D manager for Dole. “We’re seeing those familiar flavor profiles—with a lot of nostalgic purchase intent behind them—making their way into really intriguing savory dishes.”

Why are consumers ready for savory fruit right now? What are some simple ways to bring fruit to the center of the plate? Read on to find out.

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A Sense of Adventure

Consumers are ready to start exploring beyond their comfort zones. Robertet Consumer Insights recently found that 79 percent of consumers want to try something new. Mintel predicted that consumers around the globe are looking for “joyful” food experiences this year, with high-impact flavors, colors, textures, and aromas.

“There’s an interest in being a little more adventurous, a little more outgoing,” Bickmore-Hutt says.

At the same time, recognizable elements like fruit help establish a sense of familiarity for consumers when they’re trying something new. Many operators use familiar cooking styles to mitigate the risk of experimentation, but ingredients provide another way to do so. “If consumers can recognize an ingredient like mangoes, peaches, or apples, it allows them to have more faith in the overall concept because they’re already familiar with what that flavor profile should be,” Bickmore-Hutt says. “When someone tries a new cuisine or a new dish for the first time, they’re going to be more prepared to make that leap if they feel like they have something familiar in the ingredient portfolio.”

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The Social Media Star

Of course, there’s a lot to be said for the visual appeal of fruit, which plays well on social media and can generate excitement for a new menu. “Fruit is a great textural and color play in savory items,” Bickmore-Hutt says. “People are eating very visually nowadays, and—for better or for worse—taking pictures of their food that either shame or praise the operator. Adding more color to the presentation aspect, and adding more freshness and familiarity to a savory concept, makes it that much more approachable and consumable in terms of the social media aspect as well as the sensory experience.”

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Operational Wins

Using fruit in savory dishes allows operators to maximize its versatility and justify the dollar spent on that ingredient. The mangoes purchased for smoothies and breakfast bowls, for example, can also be thrown into salsa with jalapenos—or they can be pickled and incorporated into a pizza topping recipe.

Creative fruit offerings can also help a restaurant brand differentiate itself. “Using fruit in savory applications is a way for operators to separate themselves from the pack,” Bickmore-Hutt says. “Where everybody’s trying to sell to the same consumer, operators can stand out by doing the unexpected. We’re seeing really intriguing and unique applications of fruit in savory dishes that are helping to put chefs on the map.”

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The Most Compelling Way to Showcase Fruit

Bickmore-Hutt recommends adding fruit to center-of-the-plate offerings by using familiar cooking techniques like grilling, roasting, or sauteing, and by seasoning fruit with spices and sauces more commonly used for savory dishes.

For example, a beef barbacoa recipe might include an apple cinnamon flavor profile, adding a nostalgic element and helping to make it a more compelling and intriguing dish. Apples in the coleslaw or an apple cinnamon marinade also give consumers entry points for enjoyment.

“I’ve seen a lot of inspiring applications of fruit in savory concepts through old-school, familiar preservation techniques—pickling, fermenting, and curing—which allows consumers to have an element of familiarity in the flavor profile, along with something a little different than what they’re expecting,” Bickmore-Hutt says.

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Learn More About the Savory Appeal of Fruit

Fruit is endlessly versatile—there’s always a refreshing new twist to explore. As chefs experiment with maximizing that versatility across all menu parts and dayparts, consumers are being introduced to an enormous variety of innovative, creative, and crowd-pleasing savory applications.

To learn more, watch the video—and download the Dole guide to savory fruit techniques and applications.

Image credits:Dole Packaged Foods