Although they often take second billing on menus, it’s clear that appetizers, soups and side dishes represent a main course of new product development in foodservice.

These items provide taste adventure for consumers wanting the exciting or exotic. Likewise, these foods—including greens and grains—help consumers eat healthier. Still more new on-trend products help operators with back-of-house labor, cost and prep issues.

Regardless of whether it’s a restaurant or supermarket in-store deli, those consumers walking in and considering an away-from-home purchase—are looking for a unique eating experience. One way to address that appetite is with fun new foods. 

Appetizer specialist McCain Foods USA, Lisle, Ill., targeted those taste buds last year with three new Anchor brand offerings: Spicy Pickle Fries, stuffed jalapeño Poppers with Bacon, and Honey Sriracha Cheese Sticks. Also vying for big flavor was Blount Fine Foods, Fall River, Mass., which showcased an Asiago Mac and Cheese with Fire-Roasted Tomatoes as a pre-packaged deli item at this year’s International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association (IDDBA) annual convention.

Mama La's Kitchen Beef and Chicken Pho Concentrates
Mama La's Kitchen, Houston, won a 2018 FABI award for its Beef and Chicken Pho concentrates. Operators simply add water, noodles, vegetables and meat for a quick, authentic Pho.

Another fry and appetizer leader, Lamb Weston, Eagle, Idaho, noticed its Seashore seasoned fries have been popular, and more interestingly, that “puffed” potato product sales are growing nearly two times faster than the overall frozen potato category at foodservice (citing (NPD Group SupplyTrack 12 month data ending November 2017). That led the company this spring to launch Seashore Puffs, a puffed appetizer seasoned with sea salt, black pepper and garlic.

For its part, Seascape Inc., Long Beach, Calif., earned one of the National Restaurant Association’s 2018 Food and Beverage Awards (FABI) for the company’s French Fried Butter Beans. Says the company, “The ever-popular butter bean meets the best-loved French fry. Huge butter beans—battered and fried—make for a crunchy, protein-packed alternative to French fries.”

How about more exotic taste adventures? Among the 2018 FABI award winners were many companies whose products carry ethnic appeal. They included Atalanta Corporation, Elizabeth, N.J., for its imported MENU Dorati semi-dried Italian cherry tomatoes (packed with fresh basil and sunflower oil). Two other winners were Grecian Delight Foods, Elk Grove Village, Ill., for its clean label, vegan Falafel Fritters; and Seascape Inc., Long Beach, Calif., for its Fresh Vegetable Falafel (delivered frozen), which adds vegetables to the traditional chickpea falafel recipe. Separately, another NRA exhibitor was Mediterranean Brands, Glenview, Ill., which has developed a complete Filipino “set” of offerings. In addition to an Adobo Sauce and Chicken Pancit, the company offers two Filipino side dishes: Curried Squash and Green Beans, and Mung Bean and Spinach. 

Delivering ethnic adventure to in-store deli operators is Reser’s Fine Foods. This Beaverton, Ore.-based firm showcased a variety of behind-the-glass deli salad kits at this year’s IDDBA Expo. Those offerings included Vietnamese Rice Noodle, Premium Bombay Riced Cauliflower, Vegetarian Citrus Soba Noodle and Cashew Chicken.

Soups also reflect ethnic interests. Two additional FABI winners were Mama La’s Kitchen, Houston; and Nona Lim, Oakland, Calif. Mama La’s winning entry was its Beef & Chicken Pho concentrates. Operators simply add water, noodles, vegetables and meat to make authentic Pho. Officials say the company prepares and cooks USDA-approved bones for more than 15 hours and reduces the broth to a rich concentrate that is frozen and sealed. Nona Lim says its winning Shiitake Beef Bone Broth comes packaged in a 10oz heat-and-sip cup. Simmered for more than 30 hours, the grass-fed, organic beef bone stock is spiced perfectly with shiitake mushrooms and ginger.


Greens, Grains and Greater Convenience

Many more new products are helping operators add tasteful, nutritional appeal to menus. Several of these offerings feature on-trend greens and grains.

Of course, restaurant diners looking to try something different will find exactly that in another FABI winner, Salicornia or “Sea Beans” from Pete’s Living Greens. This Carpinteria, Calif., company says sea bean enthusiasts love the normally foraged green—related to amaranth—for its signature crunch, intensely salty sea flavor and grassy asparagus aftertaste. Pete’s developed hydroponically greenhouse grown sea beans (with roots attached) for extended freshness and quality. It brings this coastal farmer’s market delicacy to restaurants everywhere.

Other manufacturer suppliers are helping in-store deli operators keep pace with healthy menu options. For example, Sandridge Food Corporation, Medina, Ohio, says its new Kale Pesto Pasta kit features a cleaner, brighter pesto flavor and visual presentation from other market offerings. This cold-pressed (HPP) item also has a clean ingredient label.  

Reser’s many new in-store offerings (debuting at IDDBA) included a Roasted Tomato Quinoa Salad Kit, a Sunset Butternut Squash Salad (with spiralized butter nut squash noodles), a Deviled Egg “Faux-Tato” Salad (with cauliflower replacing potato) and a Mango Edamame Quinoa Salad.

Can operators have it all—as in on-trend tastes with less labor and cost? More manufacturers are saying “yes” and presenting several solutions in these areas.

Grecian Delight Falafel Fritters
Grecian Delight Foods, Elk Grove Village, Ill., won a NRA FABI award for its clean label, vegan falafel fritters.
Photo courtesy of Grecian Delight Foods (

How about a hummus that’s easier to make with lower cost and even no waste? The foodservice division of Bush Brothers & Company, Knoxville, Tenn., created Bush’s Best Classic Hummus Made Easy. Operators simply combine one shelf-stable, drained #10 can of Bush’s Best Garbanzo Beans with a pouch of Classic Hummus Made Easy and blend to their desired consistency with the ability to add additional ingredients to create a customized hummus offering. The Classic Hummus Made Easy blend contains just eight simple ingredients including tahini, olive oil, garlic and lemon juice. Officials say the cost to prepare this item also is below that of current prepared hummus offerings in the market at just $0.12 per 1oz serving.

“Classic Hummus Made Easy produces a craveable hummus with seasoning, texture and clean taste that chefs appreciate and consumers love,” says Bush’s Best Consulting Chef Rob Corliss (founder of All Things Epicurean). “The speed and ease of the process allows chefs to showcase this timeless hummus flavor on its own or incorporate subtle, on-trend and signature flavor notes of his or her choosing in a multitude of menu applications. Equally strong as a spread on sandwiches or wraps, a mix into soups and sauces or a traditional dip, hummus can be your culinary linchpin—a versatile ingredient that works across menu categories and dayparts.”

Also helping create magic in the back of the house are three Idaho-based potato processors: J.R. Simplot Food Group, Boise; Idahoan Foods LLC, Idaho Falls; and Lamb Weston.

Dianna Fricke, Simplot’s director of culinary, says her company’s new Kitchen Craft Fries use a seasoned batter to replicate a more time-consuming and laborious kitchen process.

“We created a French fried potato even a quick-service restaurant can use because all of that flavor is in the batter and you can see the seasonings rosemary and cracked pepper on the fries like they were tossed—back of house—with seasonings,” says. “The best part about this for the operator is the fries are fully seasoned with sea salt and the flavor doesn’t transfer in the fryer to the oil.”

With the growing popularity of truffle flavor on menus and the growth of truffle flavor in mashed potatoes, Idahoan’s foodservice team created Idahoan Truffle Mashed Potatoes. 

“One of the primary challenges … was getting the flavor profile just right,” say company officials. “Real truffle can be both potent and polarizing. Artificial truffle flavoring, by contrast, is typically better received by the general public’s palate. This legitimately tested the abilities of our Idahoan innovation team to deliver a real truffle ingredient that appealed to the masses. After a number of benchtop trials and consumer sensory panels, we finally arrived at a solution that uses real black truffle powder and other natural flavors in just the right amount to deliver a delicate, balanced truffle flavor that truly delivers on the promise with consumers.”

Last but not least, Lamb Weston took on a different challenge. Rather than targeting back-of-house labor, Lamb Weston’s R&D team targeted the front of the consumer’s house, where there’s growing demand for delivered, at-home eating. Officials say the company’s new Crispy on Delivery is a comprehensive solution including the right product, packaging and back of house support.

Starting with the fry, Crispy on Delivery fries maintain heat and crispiness for 30 minutes, while traditional fries start to lose their appeal after only five minutes. The new fry is lightly battered to withstand the challenges of delivery without sacrificing taste, the company says.

Crispy on Delivery fries travel in style—in a patented container with venting technology. The “Crispy Technology” fry cup leverages strategically placed vents to keep fries warm while also preventing condensation from collecting in the packaging. Finally, Lamb Weston’s team also offers support at a customer’s store level—with preparation and packing tips—for optimal delivery strategies and care and handling.

Originally appeared in the August, 2018 issue of Prepared Foods as The Side Show.