Ajinomoto Foods North America

Trending Flavors Don't Need Dedicated Labor

Heat-and-serve, on-trend menu items can satisfy customer cravings with minimal back-of-house labor.

The restaurant industry faces unique challenges in 2022. Operators must be more creative than ever to find solutions to the ongoing labor shortage and the snarl of supply chain issues that arose with the onset of COVID-19.

At the same time, there’s a great deal of pent-up demand for restaurant food. The National Restaurant Association 2022 State of the Restaurant Industry report found that 51 percent of adults aren’t eating at restaurants as much as they’d prefer—an increase of 6 percent from pre-pandemic times.

So how can operators tackle persistent issues with staffing and supply while ensuring a great experience for returning customers with high expectations? One answer is reliable prepared foods that don’t sacrifice on quality.

“There has never been a better time to consider prepared foods,” says Michael Castagna, vice president of foodservice marketing for Ajinomoto Foods North America. “With the labor shortage, consistency is tough to deliver, but it’s so important, especially when you’re a chain. Availability and cost of raw materials is also a concern. The value proposition of prepared foods has never been more attractive.”

As the world seems to shrink—thanks in part to social media and other factors—consumers are more eager to try out different flavors and foods they may not have seen before. Global flavors can be one way to entice them into going out. The challenge with global flavors, however, is ensuring a level of authenticity while still making the dish approachable—in order to be a profitable menu item for operators, global foods have to meet the needs of both the aspirational foodie and the more cautious diner alike.

“A lot of customers want to try unique global flavors that they’ve heard about, but they also don’t want it to be a gamble,” says Paul Bulman, director of foodservice marketing for Ajinomoto Foods. “Where we are uniquely suited is in introducing that low-investment app or shareable plate where they can sample something adventurous without having to commit 30 or 40 dollars to an entree that they aren’t sure if they will like.”

Ajinomoto specializes in multiple cuisines from across Asia, Latin America, Mexico, and Italy, as well as traditional “American” fare. The company offers a range of frozen and ready-to-eat appetizers and entrees with on-trend flavors that can also help reduce preparation time in the kitchen and prides itself on creating dishes that will be of a similar or better quality than scratch-made dishes. The line of ready-to-eat solutions also help brands execute consistent dishes time and time again—no kitchen savvy necessary.

“Labor is tighter than it ever has been,” Bulman says. “It’s a major issue. What makes us unique is that we have a portfolio of frozen products across different cuisine types. They do a really nice job of helping simplify back-of-house operations. You just cook or heat, garnish, and serve.”

One of Ajinomoto’s best-selling offerings is the Breaded “Nashville Hot” Style Cheese Curds. “Nashville” in the name is significant. While global flavors have been marketed in the past by associating them with broad regions, today’s diners want to know specifics. They are savvier about different cuisines and seek out authentic flavors.

“You’re seeing people showcase regions in different countries,” Bulman says. “In the early 2000s, a lot of American people in the culinary world would talk in broad brush strokes—it was Chinese, Thai, Korean, or even Southeastern Asian food. Now you’re starting to see people become more familiar with subregions. Take Southern Indian food, for example, with rice, lentils, different types of stews, dosas, and dishes from a warmer environment. That’s just one example of how specific subregions are getting more attention.”

As people begin to relocate more frequently and the world grows more connected, this evolution makes sense. “We are adopting the cuisines of the world,” Castagna says. “The future of western cuisine will reflect the diverse population.”

To learn more, visit the Ajinomoto foodservice website.