March 15th, 2021

Fried Chicken Sandwiches: 2020 in Review

Posted in Consumer Trends, Food Trends, Restaurants

2020 Was a Banner Year for Fried Chicken Sandwiches

2020 proved to be a great year for innovation around fried chicken sandwiches, with creative ideas and bold flavors. And as we’ve already seen in 2021, the love for fried chicken continues.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the best fried chicken sandwiches of 2020 and how they could affect trends in 2021.

2020 in Fried Chicken Sandwiches

Famous Dave’s

Fried Chicken Sandwiches

Image courtesy of ChewBoom.com

Our first inclusion is Famous Dave’s Iris’ Comeback Chicken Sandwich. This crunchy concoction features a fried chicken breast on a brioche bun with two spicy pickles and comeback sauce. What’s “comeback sauce?” It’s a savory and spicy chile-infused mayonnaise sauce popular in the Southeast.

Think of it like a fiery aioli made by simply combining a flavorful chile sauce or paste with mayonnaise and some seasonings. It’s an easy upgrade to any menu.

Quaker Steak & Lube

Fried Chicken Sandwich Trends

Image courtesy of PRNewswire.com.

Quaker Steak & Lube jumped on a few great trends of 2020 with their Buffalo Chicken Sandwich. It’s a grilled or fried chicken breast tossed in hot buffalo sauce and served over shredded lettuce, tomato, onion, and dill pickle chips on a brioche bun.

It may be a classic, but when done right with a killer buffalo sauce, it’s also a plow horse of a menu item. The key is getting a buffalo sauce that’s just spicy enough to keep adventurous eaters happy, but not so hot that it makes other diners wary to order.

Lucille’s Smokehouse Bar-B-Que

2020 Restaurant Trends

Image courtesy of LucillesBBQ.com.

Keeping up with the spicy trend, Lucille’s went all in with their Nashville Hot chicken Sandwich. Featuring a spicy fried chicken breast, sweet pickles, coleslaw, and Alabama white barbecue sauce on a brioche bun, it does a great job of balancing the heat with sweet and creamy flavors.

And Lucille’s certainly isn’t the only one to launch a Nashville Hot build. BJ’s, Yard House, and even Red Lobster all jumped on the trend in 2020 as well. Fine by us, the more the merrier when it comes to Nashville Hot.

Lucille’s also launched a Crispy Hot-Honey Chicken Sandwich in 2020. A similar build as the Nashville Hot, except it’s tossed in a sweet/hot honey glaze.

Roy Rogers

Food Trend Reviews

Image courtesy of RestaurantBusinessOnline.com.

Our final entry on the list goes all in on upgraded BBQ flavors. Roy Rogers launched a Bacon Bourbon Chicken Sandwich that hits just the right balance of sweet, smoky, tangy, and savory. It’s a breaded and fried chicken breast (or grilled breast), with bacon, Bourbon Street Sauce (a sweet and tangy bourbon-flavored sauce) and pepper Jack cheese on a bun.

That hint of heat from the pepper Jack cheese is really the difference maker here. It does a great job of balancing the sweet and smoky flavors of the Bourbon Street Sauce.

What’s Next for 2021?

Time will tell. But we’d guess you’ll see innovative new takes on crispy chicken sandwiches featuring global flavors like curry and Korean BBQ. And with a reinvigoration for Chinese American cuisine, we wouldn’t be shocked to find a General Tso’s or a Kung Pao making a national debut, either.

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March 1st, 2021

Trustworthy Trends During COVID

Posted in Consumer Trends, Food Trends, Restaurants

A Few COVID Foods Trends You Can Rely On

With new items seemingly appearing overnight, it’s good to have a few trustworthy trends you can expect to drive business in 2021.

During the 2020 MUFSO conference, trend analyst Nancy Kruse gave out her bankable trends going into 2021. These include things like vegetables, nostalgic meals, and global flavors. Let’s dive into each of these and see how they could benefit your restaurant.

Trustworthy Restaurant Trends

Vegetables

Trustworthy Trends

Veggies continue to get attention on menus nationally. 2019 saw vegetables get sincere center-of-the-plate attention, and now in 2021 they’re getting all over the plate attention. Restaurants across the country are finding new and exciting ways to utilize vegetables.

Several pizza chains, like Donato’s, Blaze, Jet’s and California Pizza Kitchen have introduced cauliflower crusts. Dos Toros has released cauliflower rice as a base for their bowls. Even Taco Bell announced a return to serving potatoes on their menu, which can be substituted for any protein.

Driven by health and environmental concerns, there’s no doubt vegetables will continue to drive menu innovation and consumer interest.

Global Flavors

COVID Food Trends

Global flavors are continuing to pop up on menus universally. Domino’s launched a Taco Pizza, while IHOP launched a line of poblano burritos and bowls.

Even restaurants that focus on American regional fares have jumped on board, evidenced by Zaxby’s General Tso’s Chicken.

There are no real rules about where global flavors need to live. They can be seasonings, specialty ingredients, or entire menu items. Sauces are an especially easy way to add global flair to existing menu items. Use them to dip, drizzle, or slather onto your customer’s favorite menu items for safe experimentation they’ll love.

Retro Meals

Chinese food trends

Let’s face it, for better or worse, the 80’s and 90’s are back. Don’t believe me? Just check out casual-dining chain Lazy Dog’s line of TV dinners. The Cheese Enchilada dinner. It comes with house-made chipotle ranchero sauce and cinnamon churro caramel cake, all housed in a compartmentalized tin container.

Chinese American cuisine is also making a comeback. We’ve already referenced Zaxby’s General Tso’s chicken, but don’t be surprised to see items like kung pao, lemon chicken, and beef and broccoli return to mainstream menus. Only now, they’ll feature cleaner ingredients and modern twists.

Where Do These Fit on Your Menu?

That’s what you should be asking yourself. Act quick to be on top of these broad new trends. They’re easy to execute and are bound to drive sales and interest. Don’t forget, people still love to dip and dunk, so make life easy with on trend sauce upgrades.

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January 18th, 2021

How Pizza Changed in 2020

Posted in Food Trends, Pizza

Pizza Continues to Prove its Adaptability

Pizza Popularity during COVID-19

Looking at how pizza changed in 2020 is a great way to see what consumers want to see in food trends. It’s basically the finger on the pulse of innovation.

Why is this? Because pizza is not only ubiquitously loved in almost every demographic, but it’s also the perfect platform for flavor creativity. Think about some of the crazy pizzas you’ve seen over the past few years: Unicorn pizza, the Hot Dog Bites pizza, or the 30-lb taco pizza from Tony Boloney’s in New Jersey.

While these pizzas may not have the resilience of classic pepperoni, they do prove something. You can put almost anything on a pizza and people will enjoy it.

But let’s look past the more “viral” pizza endeavors to those with staying power. Here’s how 2020 changed pizza forever.

How 2020 Changed Pizza

Crusts Rethought

2020 Pizza Trends

Photo courtesy of foodbusinessnews.com

Let’s start at the bottom.

2020 showed a heavy investment in changing what the crust of a pizza could be. Many of these iterations, like the Fathead Pizza from Boston’s and the trio of Donatos pizzas all featuring cauliflower crusts, were born from excitement around the low-carb diets. 1000 Degrees Pizza also launched a cauliflower crust in partnership with Caulipower®, but their intent was more focused on the power of vegetables.

Uno Pizzeria launched a Sausage Crust Pizza, which, if you couldn’t guess, featured a crust made from Italian sausage. But it’s not all about less carbs. Pizza Hut made a bold move with their Mozzarella Poppers Pizza, and both Cici’s and Little Caesars added a crispy cheese crust to the offerings.

Other innovations included fried chicken pizza crusts, Alfredo stuffed crust, and bacon-wrapped crusts.

Plant-Based Meats

How 2020 Changed Pizza

Photo courtesy of foodbusinessnews.com

2020 became the year of plant-based (PB) proteins. With a mix of trends around health, environment, and the humane treatment of animals coupled with the leap forward in plant-based protein quality, it was the perfect opportunity for PB proteins to shine.

Pizza Hut launched a duo of Beyond Italian Sausage™ Pizzas, Donatos launched a trio of plant-based pizzas, and Papa Murphy’s went with a PB pepperoni offering. All of these options were well-received by the restaurants’ customer bases and show promise for a future of plant-based protein innovation.

Global Flavors

Photo courtesy of foodbusinessnews.net

Photo courtesy of foodbusinessnews.net

Global flavors have been rising for some time now, but it seems pizzas are going to help take things to the mainstream. 2020 had some surprising hits around the concept of globally influenced pizzas.

Domino’s successfully launched a Chicken Taco Pizza, while Jet’s Pizza made waves with their Mexican Pizza featuring chorizo and jalapenos. Also, Topper’s Pizza made a great run with their Vegan Korean BBQ Chicken-Less pizza (also hitting the PB protein trend), while California based Pizza Guys launched a Curry Veggie Delight pizza featuring curry seasoning, potatoes, and garlic sauce.

Finally, fast-casual chain Your Pie went a step further with their Chicken Al Pastor Pizza topped with avocado pineapple salsa, jalapenos, and smoked-chipotle ranch sauce.

Hot Hot Heat

2020 Pizza Trends

Photo courtesy of NRN.com

Lastly, heat is in. This observation, however, is not new, it’s more of a constantly building trend. We’ve seen piquant pizzas for some time, but the creativity in heat is starting to change.

Nashville Hot Chicken pizzas, for example, are a more non-traditional way to get heat on pizza. Chains like MOD pizza are using specific chile callouts (i.e. the Calabrian chile red sauce) to drive interest in new forms of heat. Even pizza adjacent categories like condiments are driving the heat trend. A great example is the growth of New York-based Mike’s Hot Honey.

Brooklyn Ave. Pizza Co. combines heat and global flavors with their Latino Pie featuring a spicy poblano pepper mole sauce. That’s a lot more interesting than sprinkling on some chili flakes!

Order Up!

Consumer trends will continue to reshape what a pizza can be, while culinary innovators will continue to reshape trends with ambitious pizza platforms to excite and intrigue. Around and around, we go. Pizza is proving to be the world’s most interesting culinary merry-go-round; whose limitations are only those of the imagination. What trends do you think we’ll see next in pizza? Let us know in the comments below.

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