Ancient Grains Driving Profits in Fast Casual Enterprises

Ancient grain products such as kamut, quinoa, amaranth, chia and hemp amongst others have been rapidly re-entering the consumer’s diet over the past few years. These grains are not only attractive to the health-conscious consumer but have been proven to drive profits for restaurants. Integrating ancient grains into a menu will help add variety but most importantly will lower food costs. Aside from adding great texture and flavor, grains are also easy to maintain and can be served at breakfast, lunch or dinner.

The New York Restaurant Association surveyed 1,300 professional chefs (all members of the American Culinary Federation) to compile the 2014 Culinary Forecast and ancient grains came up high on the list of new trends to expect. According to Innova Market Insights, the launch of products containing quinoa rose nearly 50% over the past year, and 500% over the past five years. This massive increase proves that consumers are showing significantly more interest in these types of grains.

Quinoa is one of the fastest growing grains to appear on menus in everything from salads to soups to beverages and even to sweets. Quinoa is naturally wheat and gluten free as well as being low in carbohydrates, high in fiber and packed with different vitamins and minerals. Quinoa is also a great source of protein since it is a complete protein, containing the full nine amino acids. It is no wonder that as consumers become more health conscious, these nutritionally valuable grains become higher in demand.

Grains are no longer found solely in health stores but have made their way into the mainstream. It is now common to find quinoa cookies and chia seed bars at the check out counter of most coffee shops, prepared food markets and fast casual establishments. Apart from appearing on menus in restaurants they have also become attractive to the processed foods market.

The integration of grain products into menus is not only attractive to consumers but is also extremely beneficial to the commercial buyer. Aside from adding great flavors and textures they also have a very simple and fast preparation. Most importantly however, is the fact that grains are cheap to purchase, shelf stable, easy to store, and easy to hold (cold/hot/ambient). The fastest growing price on any food item is on meat, so if an enterprise is able to use small amounts of meat in a grain dish or can substitute it all together on the menu, it can really help get a better handle on food costs.

Grains also offer amazing versatility as they can be incorporated into the enterprise’s menu as a starter, main, or side and can be served in any of the day parts. Of course they also are a great option for dessert and mid meal snacks. Grains add variety and provide alternatives to more traditional options. For instance, here are some examples of how grains are being used at these well-known reputable enterprises:

  • Pret A Manger offers a steel-cut oatmeal breakfast option but also offers five-grain oatmeal with quinoa, flax seeds, amaranth and chia seeds.
  • Panera Bread has made way on its menu for orzo, quinoa and wheat berries among other grains. Gluten-free diners are glad to find a hearty substantive grain dish (such as barley or buckwheat noodles) as an alternative to otherwise starchy dishes such as pasta or rice.
  • Chains like Just Salad, Hale & Hearty and Chop’t are incorporating quinoa and wheat berries to add bulk to their already existing items.
  • Juice Generation offers a chia seed tapioca as a guilt free alternative to a high calorie dessert pudding.

Consumer interest in nutrition will only continue to grow, and grains are an easy product to incorporate into your product mix to attract health conscious diners in order to boost sales.

 

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