Inflation is affecting restaurants on both the top and bottom lines. Ingredients keep getting more expensive, with Datassential recently reporting that 89 percent of operators have seen food costs rise in 2022. At the same time, foot traffic has started to trend downward, likely a result of a worsening economic outlook—The NPD Group found a 2 percent year-over-year decrease in restaurant visits during the second quarter of 2022.
The bleak labor market hasn’t gotten all that much better, either. Datassential reports 42 percent of operators are still having trouble finding and hiring hourly staff. It begs the question: with so many day-to-day issues snowballing, and so little help in the kitchen, how is a chef supposed to find time to come up with fresh new recipes that will invite consumers to dine out?
“When you think about it, innovation is one part creative, one part operational,” says Chris Kimura, corporate chef at Lee Kum Kee. “You want to come up with something that sparks joy and interest, but it has to be able to be executed consistently. And if, like most chefs right now, you’re going to be constantly interrupted, you don’t have time to focus on both of those problems.”
Kimura’s solution? Find simple ways to rethink pantry staples, where one ingredient can be added to create a signature sauce, glaze, or dressing. The “plus-one” combinations, as Lee Kum Kee calls them, solves multiple challenges at once: it pares down how many SKUs a chef needs to order and rely on, while, at the same time simplifying prep and cooking processes. Additionally, new flavors will entice diners to come out despite their own wariness of spending money in the midst of a worsening economy.
Kimura and his team at Lee Kum Kee developed various innovative recipes that can be created with a Lee Kum Kee sauce and just one other ingredient. For example, Lee Kum Kee’s Black Pepper Sauce can be combined with mayonnaise to create an Umami Pepper Mayo. Or chefs can combine Lee Kum Kee Premium Oyster Flavored Sauce with Caesar dressing to create Umami Caesar Dressing.
“One thing we know is that chefs are buying fewer ingredients and they’ve been shrinking their menus, really since the pandemic started,” Kimura says. “So they don’t want chili bean sauce that they’re only using on one appetizer. So why not use that chili bean sauce in a dressing? Or add just one ingredient to it—honey—and create something like a Fermented Chili Hot Honey?”
These simple adds help amplify the idea that innovation is just a single ingredient away. This is an ethos that Lee Kum Kee tries to instill in its operator partners: there’s no need to cease innovating despite ongoing challenges. The company would know a thing or two about it: founded in 1888, Lee Kum Kee has helped set the standard of Asian flavors in the U.S., and now offers over 200 different products that help serve as a launching pad for innovation.
“We view ourselves as so much more than a maker of Asian sauces,” Kimura says. “We want to be more than that. We aim to be a true partner to our customers. To that extent we offer so many other services, including helping with menu development. How do we zero in on the problems each operator is experiencing and help them innovate in spite of those challenges? We really place a premium on our relationships with customers and helping them grow their business.”
Download more easy “plus-one” solutions for your menu on the Lee Kum Kee website.