Thursday, September 6, 2012

Ethnic short-circuiting

Here’s definitive proof that restaurant chains are shortening the lag time between the emergence of a food trend and the point it’s reflected in their mainstream menus.

One of the recent pieces of research to come out of Technomic’s data plant is a measure of consumers’ desire for ethnic food choices. They want more, far more, especially from chain restaurants. Only 23% of consumers are satisfied with the choice they find on fast-food menus, and only 28% are content with the ethnic options at family or casual restaurants. Clearly they’d like to run their finger down the menu and see more opportunity for experimentation.

Not a week passed before chains started trumpeting their new menus for the fall. The United Nations should be as ethnic as what they showcased.

Consider, for instance,  what was on Burger King’s revised line-up: An Italian breakfast burrito, featuring marina sauce and mozzarella inside a soft tortilla.

Miami Subs, a chain that once offered every fast-food product known to mankind, from burgers to gyros and subs, has just outfitted stores with what it’s calling a Latin Fusion menu. Included are such ethnic choices as a Cuban sandwich and tostones, or fried green plantains.

Even Baskin-Robbins reached beyond the border for its new draw. The frozen-treat chain’s big lure this fall is the new Waffle Chip Dipper, a plate of ice cream served with waffle-like cookies. “Think nachos, only cooler,” the Dunkin’ Donuts sister says in its promotional materials.

There’s one big problem with all this ethnic activity. As Technomic’s Darren Tristano put it, “Authenticity is crucial…Sixty-five percent of consumers say food that tastes authentic is one of the most important factors in deciding which establishment to visit for ethnic foods and beverages.”

Neither my Calabrese father or Venetian mother ever waxed nostalgically for the breakfast burritos they knew from the Old Country. 

And, sorry, Baskin-Robbins, but waffles aren’t nachos.

Chains are moving faster to exploit the trends. This fall showed they're accurately gauging what customers want immediately, or what Technomic found in its ethnic research. 

Now they just have to nail the precision part. 

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