Special Report | April 2010 | By Staff

2010 Chef Survey

QSR asks the industry’s leading culinarians to weigh in on what’s hot and what’s not in menu trends. Their answers may surprise you.

While the old adage says there’s nothing new under the sun, the new decade brings fresh takes on traditional menu items while ethnic, vegan, and local ingredients make farther inroads into the quick-serve culinary scene.

In the fourth annual QSR Chef Survey, the industry’s top kitchen professionals explain what frugal fatigue means for your concept’s menu and what previously popular menu trends have fallen from grace. Some of their answers may surprise you—Is quinoa really the next “it” ingredient? And does bacon deserve to be on the most loved and the most hated list at the same time?—but you can’t find this insight anywhere else.

Click on the questions below to see what our chef panel said.

What are consumers craving in the snack category?

“Signature dipping sauces can add more exotic flavors and make sharing with friends even more fun.”—General Mills Foodservice Culinary Center Chefs

“They want rich and intensely flavorful smaller-sized items such as dessert or appetizer samplers.”—Chris Martone, Executive Chef, Subway

“Consumers want taste, texture, and authenticity.”—Jim Villemaire, Director, Research & Development, FOCUS Brands

“Nori. It’s commonly used in sushi but many are discovering that it is delicious eaten plain.”—Joe Cerniglia, Director, Culinary Innovation, Villa Enterprises

“Consumers want mini meals, snacks like a giant meatball filled with mushroom ragout.”—Susan Edwards, Director, Culinary, Cryovac

How will kids’ meals improve in 2010? What foods will be the most popular for those offerings?

“The First Lady’s childhood obesity push will garner most of the attention for the next few years. It’s a wait-and-see situation. The country will see if the push will actually impact the kids menu.”—Patrick Fox, Chef, Owner, Cava Greens

“It seems only a short matter of time until the standard ‘kiddie menu’ becomes an awkward relic of the past.”—Joe Cerniglia, Director, Culinary Innovation, Villa Enterprises

“Decrease portion sizes.”—Chris Martone, Executive Chef, Subway

“Kids want fun and interesting food that is familiar.”—Carron Harris, Vice President, Product Development, Papa Murphy’s

“Nutrition will be the key in the kids segment. Heavily breaded, fried, and processed foods are becoming less acceptable by the day.”—Jim Villemaire, Director, Research & Development, FOCUS Brands

“We will see a shift from soda and carbonated products as the kids meal option to healthier drink choices.”—Joan Scharff, Executive Director, Brand and Menu Strategy, Souplantation/Sweet Tomatoes

What options are there for quick-serve chefs looking to add vegetarian and vegan items to their menus?

“Local, natural, and organic are trends many of us in the segment have struggled with implementing.  Local produce suppliers and growers are a prime source of the items that really speak to our vegetarian and vegan clientele.”—Jim Villemaire, Director, Research & Development, FOCUS Brands

“Carrots are out; fresh-cut jicama is in. No frozen corn allowed and only freshly grilled and shucked corn is served. Drop the ranch dressing and offer a selection of freshly made vinaigrettes.”—Patrick Fox, Chef, Owner, Cava Greens

“Play around with binding ingredients such as transglutaminase. It’s expensive, but the carbohydrates you mix with it are not.”—Susan Edwards, Director, Culinary, Cryovac

“Baked potatoes can become an entrée—especially with the addition of cheese or vegetables.”—General Mills Foodservice Culinary Center Chefs

“Chefs could look at roasted vegetables—they add color, texture, and layers of concentrated flavor.”—Chris Martone, Executive Chef, Subway

“I think sauces and seasonings will play an even larger role in bringing out flavor for dishes that are often perceived by nonvegetarians as boring due to lack of animal proteins.”—Carron Harris, Vice President, Product Development, Papa Murphy’s

How should quick-serve chefs deal with the growing number of consumers with food allergies and intolerances?

“Educate your staff thoroughly on the dangers of food allergies.”—Joe Cerniglia, Director, Culinary Innovation, Villa Enterprises

“The easy solution is wraps made from corn flour and then filled. They are already on trend—and gluten-free.”—Susan Edwards, Director, Culinary, Cryovac

“The ultimate responsibility for communicating food allergies and intolerances lies with the consumer. Operators must focus their efforts on training efforts.”—Patrick Fox, Chef, Owner, Cava Greens

“Avoid cross contamination. Even when a recipe for a dish doesn’t include food allergens, they can sneak in.”—General Mills Foodservice Culinary Center Chefs

“The biggest single service we can provide is knowledge. We need to arm the customer with data on specific ingredients.”—Jim Villemaire, Director, Research & Development, FOCUS Brands

Beyond traditional American-Chinese offerings, what flavors will affect the Asian segment going forward?

“There will be more use of traditional Asian flavors as secondary layers of flavor, especially when combined with traditionally non-Asian recipes.”—Chris Martone, Executive Chef, Subway

“We’ll see Asian-American food go back to the basics like street food–inspired dishes made with authentic Asian ingredients and special fruits such as mangosteen.”—Susan Edwards, Director, Culinary, Cryovac

“Korean grilled meats such as bulgogi and kalbi have been hot on the coasts for some time. The heartland might just be ready to experience these accessibly exotic flavors.”—Jim Villemaire, Director, Research & Development, FOCUS Brands

“Vietnamese street food—global comfort food with an informal and authentic nod.”—Joe Cerniglia, Director, Culinary Innovation, Villa Enterprises

“Regions will play a bigger and bigger role as their geography and flavors become more mainstream.  Asia is a big place and lesser-known food will be investigated.”—Carron Harris, Vice President, Product Development, Papa Murphy’s

Are consumers ready for luxury items to return to menus?

“What yesterday was considered luxury and expensive is now a very special treat in many consumers’ minds.”—Carron Harris, Vice President, Product Development, Papa Murphy’s

“Consumers have always wanted choice. Luxury items have their place, as long as you are also offering something with a lower price of entry.”—Jim Villemaire, Director, Research & Development, FOCUS Brands

“Customers will pay more to know where their food came from or that the ingredients are all-natural and additive-free.”—Susan Edwards, Director, Culinary, Cryovac

“Perhaps in time luxury items will come back, but in smaller portions and quantities.”—Chris Martone, Executive Chef, Subway

“They see value in paying for only what they want, not what a restaurant wants to portion them.  Customers will notice the freshness, quality, and nutritional level of an establishment.”—Patrick Fox, Chef, Owner, Cava Greens

“Consumer will begin to mix their ‘low’ with the ‘high’ menu items. Specials like fried chicken and champagne dinners that offer value combine an element of luxury.”—Joe Cerniglia, Director, Culinary Innovation, Villa Enterprises

“In this economy, folks are willing to splurge a little bit because those splurges make the big sacrifices bearable.”—General Mill Foodservice Culinary Center Chefs

“They are looking for value-priced versions of those luxury items and will continue to hold restaurants to the same standards as in the past.”—Joan Scharff, Executive Director, Brand and Menu Strategy, Souplantation/Sweet Tomatoes

What’s the “it” ingredient this year?

“Ginger. It can be used in either sweet or savory applications.”—Carron Harris, Vice President, Product Development, Papa Murphy’s

“Nuts cross all categories.”—Susan Edwards, Director, Culinary, Cryovac

“Quality bacon like thicker bacon, artisan bacon, or bacon smoked over real wood.”—Jim Villemaire, Director, Research & Development, FOCUS Brands

“Consumers will become increasingly aware of not only where their food comes from, but also how it is treated until processing.”—Joe Cerniglia, Director, Culinary Innovation, Villa Enterprises

“Quinoa! It’s packed with protein, high in unsaturated fats, rich with complex carbohydrates, and offers a balanced source of nutrients.”—Patrick Fox, Chef, Owner, Cava Greens

“Whole grains offer unique health benefits.”—General Mills Foodservice Culinary Center Chefs

“Anything real, a focus on additive-free.”—Joan Scharff, Executive Director, Brand and Menu Strategy, Souplantation/Sweet Tomatoes

What previously popular menu trend won’t make it in the new decade?

“We’re victims of bacon overload. This year and beyond we will see a return to bacon in its truest form (i.e. not candied).”—Joe Cerniglia, Director, Culinary Innovation, Villa Enterprises

“The addition of sugar to every menu item.”—Patrick Fox, Chef, Owner, Cava Greens

“I think Mexican has achieved a peak.”—Susan Edwards, Director, Culinary, Cryovac

“Molecular gastronomy.”—General Mills Foodservice Culinary Center Chefs

“Restaurants where guests cook their own food are out.”—Chris Martone, Executive Chef, Subway

“Menu items with artificial trans fats will be quickly disappearing.”—Joan Scharff, Executive Director, Brand and Menu Strategy, Souplantation/Sweet Tomatoes

What flavors and ingredients will define the new decade?

“Consumers are gravitating to kosher products and are finding them in more and more mainstream places.”—Chris Martone, Executive Chef, Subway

“‘Reduced sodium’ will be the biggest windmill we’ll all be fighting for the foreseeable future. Whatever becomes the ‘Flavor of the Decade,’ it will be a little less salty than it would have been otherwise.”—Jim Villemaire, Director, Research & Development, FOCUS Brands

“Korean flavors will have a moment. The spicy taste including red pepper, green onion, soy sauce, bean paste, garlic, ginger, sesame, mustard, and vinegar are all ingredients consumers have proven they enjoy.”—Joe Cerniglia, Director, Culinary Innovation, Villa Enterprises

“Local and seasonal ingredients will figure prominently in the new decade. Seasonal fruits and vegetables, regional specialties, and items from local producers will be popular.”—General Mills Foodservice Culinary Center Chefs

“Chefs will focus on ingredient integrity and cooking techniques that will bring out the best flavor of the ingredients.”—Patrick Fox, Chef, Owner, Cava Greens

“As more and more ethnic foods become mainstream, we will see that translate into higher demand from consumers at all levels. People just don’t want Mexican food anymore, they want Yucatan or Oaxacan.”—Carron Harris, Vice President, Product Development, Papa Murphy’s

“We will see new twists on traditional comfort foods, a continued emphasis on customization and topping options to personalize meals. Another big trend will be the use of flowers, like Hibiscus, flavoring beverages.”—Joan Scharff, executive director of brand and menu strategy, Souplantation/Sweet Tomatoes

To participate in next year’s Chef Survey, contact Blair Chancey