Sponsored by Haliburton International Foods.
As we enter winter, chefs are looking for ways to differentiate soup offerings to draw in patrons looking for warmth and comfort. Soups present a challenge for chefs: familiar to diners, creating separation from competitors requires innovation. While operators have long relied on classic menu items, like clam chowder, chicken noodle, and french onion soup, international flavor trends have helped a new class of soups gain popularity.
And there’s profit to be had—according to Datassential, 49 percent of diners who order soup at restaurants do so more than once per month. Justin Gorup, corporate chef at Haliburton, says the colder months “offer chefs an opportunity to experiment with on-trend flavors to create new menu items, such as smoked chile tortilla soup, roasted shitake and ginger broth, and heirloom bean and pancetta bisque.”
That doesn’t mean the longtime favorites are going anywhere. In fact, Gorup says trends in the world of soup have split in multiple directions.
“There’s an ongoing trend within the industry of developing variations to well-know soup flavors and creating new unique recipes,” Gorup says. “Then you have other soups that are branching out into different cultures and flavor profiles. Both present a great opportunity for chefs to really wow their guests with minimum risk attached.”
Even with all of the trendy international flavor profiles that have led to the explosion of things like ramen and pho, homestyle soups are still the most menued in the U.S. According to Datassential, chili is the “most loved soup,” and it has even grown 20 percent over the past four years.
Another trend Gorup identifies is that soup is no longer an afterthought for chefs, nor diners. Whereas “soup du jour” used to be the extent of the item’s menu presence, it has migrated its way to the core of a lot of menus. That’s due to its popularity and ease in the kitchen. “It has minimal impact on the back of house and orders are easily executed by cooks on the line,” Gorup says.
One way to make soup especially easy on back-of-house operations is to find a product partner with ready-made offerings. Haliburton, for example, bills itself as a culinary brand with high-volume kettle cooking capabilities customized to each clients’ needs.
“The first thing I do when I’m creating a soup menu for a brand partner is ask about their kitchen to understand what makes the most sense for their operation,” Gorup says. “We offer all types of solutions for chefs looking to add on-trend soups to their menu, from soups ready-to-serve, to concentrated soups that are still delicious, we can help set a chef’s soups apart from the competition.”
Gorup recently created a fire-roasted tortilla soup with generous amounts of chicken, tortilla strips, avocado, cilantro, and cilantro lime crema, creating a fresh, photogenic look. This will play to the crowd who appreciates the way food is plated, as well as those posting pictures of their food to social media.
Gorup suggests offering the fire-roasted tortilla soup as a smaller portion, paired with a torta. Substituting soups for fries, or other sides, can offer a health play and create a well-rounded meal.
“Whether it’s served as an appetizer, a side, or a standalone, chefs are seeing great ROI when they add soups to the menu,” Gorup says. “That’s something that can only grow when it’s a bit colder outside.”
By Charlie Pogacar