Sponsored by Haliburton International Foods.
American diners are busy, so it’s no surprise that they look for convenient, portable foods to eat off premises. “People are in a rush with kids and jobs, so it’s important for restaurants to cater to individuals on the go and who don’t want to sacrifice flavor just because they have a lot going on,” says Robert LeSage, corporate chef for Haliburton International Foods.
However, it’s not just entrées and sides that consumers want to see in handheld formats—they also want their desserts. Though many of these busy diners won’t sit down to eat a messy dessert, by offering sweet items in portable formats restaurants can drive add-on sales they might otherwise miss out on. Additionally, if a brand puts the right kinds of craveable signature sweets on the menu, they can also drive traffic that might lead to additional savory item sales.
“Take Sonic Drive-In’s beverage program,” LeSage says. “It’s a huge part of their menu and marketing focus and I suspect people go there for hand-mixed milkshakes, frozen lemonade, or fruit slushes but then also buy some chili cheese fries or boneless wings.”
This makes it crucial to design the kinds of portable car- and commute-friendly dishes that draw in traffic and encourage more spending. But creating the right dish is another challenge. Not only must restaurants come up with a creative taste profile that will attract diners, but they also must consider the portability of that dish.
“It needs to be designed so that diners can eat it with one hand and preferably packaged appropriately for eating in the car or on the go,” LeSage says.
LeSage says that packaging designed to fit in a cup holder or stand up make for effective carriers, but items that are already portable in form can be equally as effective. “We’re currently working on reinventing the classic chocolate taco,” he says. “It’s something that people grew up eating off an ice cream truck or out of a c-store, but we’re breathing new life into it by upgrading the sauces, ice cream, and chocolate taco shell.
The chocolate taco also ties into food trends like ethnic and “real” foods. By combining portable desserts with other trends, LeSage says restaurant can draw in diners from a variety of market segments.
This is especially true for millennials and Gen Z consumers who seem to be all about knowing where their food comes and healthy eating,” he says. “Those two things can seem to be a little contradictory, but when I develop new products, I try to use ingredients you can pronounce, like raspberries. Even health-conscious people crave an indulgent treat, and it might only be three bites of something, but they want a little bit of something sweet, especially if it's natural and comes with ingredients they know and are familiar with.”
Another challenge to serving more portable desserts is balancing the creativity that draws in guests with the operational complexity that comes with adding new dishes to the menu. That’s why it helps to find a vendor partners like Haliburton to assist in designing turnkey, clean label, authentic products that can be easily incorporated into a menu item, portable or otherwise.
“It can be a challenge being creative and not slowing down ticket times for your normal savory items you’re selling for lunch,” LeSage says. He recently worked with a restaurant brand that wanted to add four new desserts to the menu while only adding two new SKUs to its inventory. Working with corporate chef’s from companies like ours who focus on food innovation and authenticity can help to fuel the development process and allow other insights into designing easy to execute dessert items that deliver incremental sales while driving new traffic.