Ore-Ida Fun Shaped Mashed Potatoes are crispy shells stuffed with mashed potatoes. Operators can bake or fry the frozen products.
Although it might seem contradictory, the two biggest trends in foodservice are exotic and comfort foods.

As much as diners love to experiment, it seems they are just as willing to pick something familiar and close to their hearts. While new spices and side dishes replace existing ones, consumers continue to demand the option of a staple food they grew up on.

Restaurants have gotten hip to the demand for comfort foods like beef stew and macaroni & cheese, and are seeking new ways to serve these classic dishes. The old soldier of side dishes--the potato--has been quite popular over the last year, coming in more convenient serving methods. For example, J.R. Simplot's Plate Perfect Mashed Potatoes even comes with its own pastry bag for the perfect effect.

Although comfort foods are popular, so are more exotic offerings, especially with the younger crowd. Adventuresome "designer diners" are giving operators one more reason to look for alternatives to the standard fare. Exotic foods and new flavors, with Moroccan, Malaysian, Indian and Brazilian influences, have been displacing old standbys rapidly in venues from quick-serve settings to fine dining.

Citrus, flavored olive oils, Thai seasonings, and teriyaki marinades are among the more interesting flavors showing up in these exotic cuisines. As an added bonus, restaurant operators can pick and choose from these various foods and seasonings that are gaining ground with consumers and add those ingredients to conventional dishes, altering them as their patrons' tastes change.

Several new foodservice products may cause a changing of the guard on restaurant menus. For example, Goglanian Bakeries, Santa Ana, Calif., is hoping its new crunchy snack will give tortilla chips the gate. Its Pita'z are baked bits of pita bread that combine the Middle Eastern influence with such flavors as barbecue, nacho cheese, and onion/garlic.

A healthy alternative to carbohydrates, according to Master Foodservices, is its new imported Ebly Wheat product. The French grains are made from durum and can replace rice in many standard dishes.

A multitude of product introductions over the past year has shown that manufacturers are starting to realize that meat does not make the meal. Some of the more notable vegetarian products include Master Foodservices' Uncle Ben's Natural Grain product line with multigrain flavors, red rice, and exotic wild rice for tasty side dishes and appetizing entrees.

Also keeping an eye out for vegan diners is Bestfoods Foodservice, which has added to its line of veggie-friendly soups with such sumptuous varieties as Creamy Corn Tortilla and Cheeseburger Deluxe. We're not quite sure how they managed that second one, but we're willing to give it a try.

For those operators who want to make a pleasing meal without all the work, Norpac Foods is offering seven vegetable blends, including Caribbean, Normandy and Sicilian Blends. PF