Sponsored by Haliburton International Foods.
Off-peak dayparts like the early evening and late night windows have long been a challenge for operators, especially in the quick-serve space where happy hour and late night drink specials are few and far between. Attracting traffic during these dayparts relies on buzzworthy small plate offerings that can keep a brand relevant. The trick is to accomplish this without adding lots of extra inventory items that complicate things in the kitchen.
Put another way, chefs must walk the line between simple and creative, says Haliburton International Corporate Chef Robert LeSage. Take a cheese sauce, for example, which is likely to appeal to a lot of diners these days—the USDA reported cheese consumption per capita steadily climbed every year from 1970 to 2016, reaching an all-time high of 36.6 pounds per person.
“By adding ingredients like smoky chipotle or chorizo, even a cheese sauce is something you can make on trend,” LeSage says. “And then that can be just a dipping sauce, or you can include it in a burrito, a taco, a loaded fries dish, or tater tots.”
Smoky flavors are particularly on trend, making up 40 percent of new cheese flavors hitting the shelves. Beer cheese is yet another cheese item growing on small bite menus, having shown 128 percent growth over the past four years.
Does cheese’s everlasting popularity seem to run counter to the plant-based craze? Remember, the plant-based movement isn’t about veganism, but younger demographics that are increasingly identifying as flexitarians. Sargento reports that over 26 percent of veggie or plant-based menu items include cheese.
For those targeting the truly health-conscious demographic, chefs at Haliburton are hearing more about the need for innovative vegetable plates. In response, Haliburton Corporate Chef Justin Gorup recently created a unique, hummus-inspired Za’atar beet dip that could be added to a snack menu overnight.
“I know a lot of people are excited about the plant-based burger movement, but there are others who are realizing they contain these ingredients you can’t pronounce and definitely don’t recognize,” LeSage says. “So some diners are looking for chefs to go back to basics. I can’t tell you how often chefs come to us these days looking for clean label vegetable plate ideas.”
Another thing to note, says LeSage, is that just because snacks work well during off peak windows, chefs shouldn’t feel limited.
“Really, the possibilities are endless, sweet or savory,” LeSage says. “Maybe it’s french toast bites with maple bacon on a brunch menu or something like that, or a healthy snack, like fresh apple dipped in a unique fruit sauce for dessert.”
With so many possibilities to capture new revenue, a food partner can be a great resource for chefs looking to integrate ready-made items into a kitchen.
“At Haliburton, we’re not just selling you a bag of cheese sauce,” LeSage says. “We’re all about partnerships. Not only are we able to provide high quality products, but we can also be that creative, helpful mind to help you succeed. With over 100 million pounds of kettle capacity, we are the only ready-to-use certified food partner in the country.”
By Charlie Pogacar