Velvet Touch
Chocolate cake is one of the most popular desserts on the menu. In recent years, innovation on traditional chocolate cake came either through flourless or molten varieties. Today, however, one of the hottest new chocolate cake trends is red velvet--evidence that looking at the past can help divine future trends. This is especially true when consumers are looking to return to the basics. Retrospective flavors, like red velvet chocolate cake, really hit the sweet spot.

According to Mintel Menu Insights, Claim Jumper was one of the first chain restaurants to offer a red velvet dessert. Not only was the flavor unique to the dessert menu, its form and presentation were as well: Claim Jumper offered a mini Red Velvet Cupcake topped with rich, classic butter cream cheese vanilla bean frosting with a side of molten chocolate bourbon sauce.

California Pizza Kitchen, Damon’s and Ryan’s Buffet and Bakery have each since put their own twist on the home-grown dessert, red velvet cake.

The Need for Value
When Mintel surveyed consumers back in January 2008, over half of respondents (52%) said they were trying to reduce restaurant spending because of the economy. This only heightens restaurants’ need to spin value on the menu, and nothing spells value better than items costing a dollar.

For fast food restaurants, value innovation has come in the form of the $1 phenomenon--menu items for a buck. McDonald’s has proven that a Dollar Menu is good for the consumer and the restaurant. According to the fast-food giant, its eight-item Dollar Menu accounts for 14% of its total U.S. sales.

Sonic: America’s Drive-In is the latest to add a $1 menu. The chain’s Everyday Value Menu had a 2009 kickoff and combines new products with downsized traditional offerings. According to its website, the Everyday Value Menu consists of 10 items, ranging from Value Size Tots to a Chicken Strip Sandwich to a Jr. FRITOS Chili Cheese Wrap to a Jr. Deluxe Burger, offered all day for $1. Even a breakfast sandwich (the Jr. Breakfast Burrito) is available all day for a buck.

Mintel Menu Insights, a part of Mintel International Group, is a key resource for analyzing trends in the U.S. restaurant industry. The database tracks menu trends and innovations from the 350 largest chain restaurants and 150 independent restaurants, also featuring the nation’s top 50 chefs. Trends are reported quarterly, offering insight into pricing, menu items, ingredients, preparations and entirely new menus. For more information, visit or contact Mintel International at 312-932-0600.