You could say some of the best new prepared foodservice entrees, side dishes and snacks have 3D appeal—although you don’t need special movie theater glasses to appreciate them.

Manufacturers’ new offerings need to fit their customers’ menu trends and operational demands. Those two requirements are standard. And then there’s a third dimension—the true reason that makes a new item stand out for customer and consumer. When it comes to prepared entrees, sides and snacks, that third dimension involves either a product’s appeal for unique flavor and form; its appeal to health benefits; and/or its appeal to operational convenience.


New Flavors, Forms

This year saw the National Restaurant Association (NRA) honor several distinctive, flavorful new products as part of NRA’s 2019 Food and Beverage Awards (FABI). Honorees included Tyson Foods, for its Jimmy Dean Sausage & Gravy Stuffed Hash Browns; Mama La’s Kitchen, for Cajun Boudin Eggrolls (a fusion of Vietnamese and southern flavors); PepsiCo Foodservice, for its Sabra Breakfast kits featuring on-trend spreads and breads (Avocado Toast and Everything Hummus Toast); and Sevillo Fine Foods, for its Fire Grilled Edamame.

Pushing comfort and color was Reser’s Fine Foods, Beaverton, Ore., which used the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association’s annual summertime show to launch a range of new entrees and sides for in-store deli operators. New entrees included Baked Ziti Bolognese, Baked Chicken Broccoli Cheddar Rice and a Baked Five Cheese Macaroni. New side dishes included Stonemill Kitchens Red Cabbage, Beets & Bacon Salad, a Carolina Gold Mustard Slaw, a Creamy Cauliflower, and a Nashville Hot Sweet Potato Salad.

Another company bringing the heat was foodservice distributor US Foods, whose new private label offerings have included Molly’s Kitchen Flamin’ Battered Onion Ring. Officials say this vibrant red appetizer offers Instagram appeal while it brings the heat of the sriracha outside and sweet onion inside. It features no artificial colors and actually uses beets as the base of its natural color.

Also promoting a premium flavor experience this summer was Campbell’s Foodservice, which expanded its crafted seafood soup line with a new Loaded Clam Chowder. It features onions, smoky applewood uncured bacon and even more clams than a traditional Campbell’s chowder offering.

According to Nielsen Craft Beer Insights (2017), 71% of consumers look for complementary foods when choosing a craft beer at restaurants and bars. With crunchy texture and bold, on-trend flavors, craft beer-battered appetizers and snacks enhance the flavor of craft beer. That’s what has led McCain USA Foodservice, Oakbrook Terrace, Ill.., to develop a range of craft beer battered appetizers—from potatoes to cheese to onions and other vegetables—all under the McCain Brew City brand.

The company’s latest offerings are Brew City IPA Beer Battered Onion Rings and new Brew City IPA Beer Battered Gouda & Mozzarella Cheese Bites. Crafted with IPA batters, these crispy onion rings and golden cheese bites harness the growing popularity of this hoppy craft in the form of all-time menu favorites.

Still more new offerings this summer include Anchor Spicy Breaded Wisconsin Cheese Curds, McCain Dip’n Wedges and Moore’s Spicy Breaded Onion Straws.


Health, Diet Appeal

More new products appeal not just on the basis of flavor—but also for a formulation that fits a better-for-you profile or diet regimen.

In other 2019 announcements, Campbell’s Foodservice said it completed two years of reformulation work around more than 60 canned soup offerings. In involved a shift to antibiotic-free chicken meat, and establishing sodium limits (390mg per serving) in Healthy Request products. Meanwhile, formulators eliminated high fructose corn syrup, added MSG, artificial colors, artificial flavors and added preservatives. In other news, Campbell’s Foodservice also introduced its first Child Nutrition labeled product for K-12 school programs: a macaroni and cheese entrée with real cheddar cheese and whole grain-rich macaroni. Officials say the product (1) is 25% lower in fat and saturated fat than the top-selling competitive product on an ounce-per-ounce basis, (2) fits with USDA requirements to limit sodium in school meals, and (3) provides an excellent source of protein and calcium.

Still more NRA FABI award winners have health and specialty diet appeal. Greece’s Rodoula G.R., earned honors for its vegan Traditional Crinkly Greek Pie. Another winner was Green Spot Foods LLC, Brookfield, Wis., which introduced Jasberry Rice, a certified organic and non-GMO rice with antioxidant levels higher than many other ancient grains such quinoa, brown rice, and forbidden rice.

Elsewhere, InHarvest, Bemidji, Minn., used the NACUFS 2019 Showcase in Denver to highlight its Aztec Blend, a textural, colorful meld of Colusari Red Rice, long-grain brown rice, multi-color peas and ancient amaranth. Completely gluten free and kosher, this whole-grain blend—exhibiting superb hold time—contains seven of the nine amino acids. It also provides plant-based protein thanks to split peas, making it an ideal product for vegan and vegetarian applications.

Another 2019 NRA exhibitor was Mediterranean Brands Inc., Glenview, Ill., which showcased new plant-based entrees and side dishes including a Carrot Cauliflower Mash, Vegan Cassoulet, Vegan Riced Cauliflower, Vegan Dirty Rice and Green Bean & Tofu Stew.

Also promoting plant protein is Barilla America, Northbrook, Ill., and its foodservice division, which developed Chickpea & Red Lentil pasta. Made with just chickpeas or red lentils, the product boasts one of the cleanest labels possible, where competitive products use binders and emulsifiers to achieve a pasta texture. Officials say Barilla leveraged its more than 140 years of experience to create single-ingredient legume pastas with a deliciously unique taste and “al dente” texture, along with the nutrition benefits of legumes—providing a good source of plant-based protein and excellent source of fiber that’s naturally gluten-free and certified non-GMO.

Taking a different approach to health has been Sandridge Food Corp., Medina, Ohio. Targeting the healthcare segment, Sandridge chefs and R&D scientists created Lifestyle 750mg/14g, a line of functional, to-go meals—all under 750mg sodium and more than 14g protein. Initially developed for hospital discharge patients, Sandridge says the 11-item line—involving simple pre-cooked, ready to assemble components—has become equally popular for hospital guests and staff members. Varieties range from comfort foods such as Chicken Alfredo to Pork Carnitas and Cilantro Rice. Officials say the line’s popularity has expanded its distribution to more than a dozen healthcare operator groups, colleges and universities, and supermarket in-store deli departments.


Easy Does It

Last but not least, many more new products are stars for what they offer in the kitchen, behind an in-store deli counter or even in an over-the-road delivery format.

One of Sysco Corp.’s new sides is a Path Of Life Vegetable Rice Confetti Blend.

“A true vegetable medley, this ready-to-use flavorful blend of riced broccoli, cauliflower, yellow carrots and zucchini delivers a vibrant grain substitute, garnish or side. [It] allows our operators to capitalize on the food bowl trend,” says Sysco.

Elsewhere, one of US Foods’ latest offerings has been Molly’s Kitchen Petite Pearls.

“Operators are looking for unique, versatile products they can add to the menu that appear handmade and offer a more upscale appearance,” notes US Foods. “These products must also be accessible to their diners with a familiar flavor profile.”

Officials say Petite Pearls represent an upscale addition (and upsell opportunity) on burgers, soups, salads and drinks. Reminiscent of an onion ring, this new item boasts a salt-and-pepper breading that complements the sweet onion within it. Its breaded pearl onions are crisp on the outside and tender on the inside for a “pop-able” format to create an irresistible shared appetizer or topper for a cocktail.

School foodservice operators also need help in the kitchen. That’s why Schwan’s Food Service Inc. says it traveled to this summer’s School Nutrition Association’s Annual National Conference (ANC). There, it showcased Primo Scratch Ready Rising Crust Pizza. With this pizza, operators start with our pizzeria-style crust and can simply customize the toppings and bake — no thawing, stretching or docking required, the company says.

This new item gives operators the flexibility to create any style and variety of pizza to keep students coming back for more—all with one SKU. Schwan’s says it also is expanding its use of uncured turkey and beef pepperoni on its line of Big Daddy’s Primo pizzas. This uncured pepperoni now will be offered on all Big Daddy’s crust lines, including rising crust and the par-baked crust. This change provides foodservice operators even more pepperoni options, with no added artificial preservatives, no nitrates or nitrites, and no BHA or BHT.

French fries are another popular item with kids and adults alike. And at a time when a greater percentage of restaurant sales involve delivery, potato processors Lamb Weston, McCain Foods and Cavendish Farms have focused on new French fry coatings that keep fries fresh and crisp much longer. 

Last year saw Lamb Weston introduce its Crispy on Delivery fry. More recently, McCain unveiled its SureCrisp fries and Cavendish launched a DeliverCrisp fry with a proprietary potato starch-based coating. All three companies’ scientists have worked to ensure fries stay crisp even after as long as 30 minutes in transit.

Originally appeared in the August, 2019 issue of Prepared Foods as Three's Company.