Consumers are really trying to eat more fruits and vegetables, but when the entrées arrive at the restaurant table, all eyes are on the center of the plate.
Consumers are becoming self-educated. “America’s food IQ has grown because of the Food Network and the Internet,” says Owen Tilley, chef for High Liner Foods. “Also, there are widespread health concerns and a new food pyramid that shows how you’re supposed to eat seafood all the time, not just on Fridays.” Consumers want their seafood to be delicious, nutritious and environmentally sound.
Responding to trends
According to the National Restaurant Association’s 2013 Forecast, chefs say that, among their top trends, are locally sourced seafood, sustainable seafood and smaller portions for smaller prices. Ethnic flavors are also among chefs’ top trends, and chefs named Peruvian, Regional Ethnic, ethnic fusion, Korean and Southeast Asian as the top five ethnic trends. In fact, these trends are inspiring chefs to develop new variations of seafood as the center of the plate.
In response to the sustainability movement, High Liner Foods has teamed up with organizations committed to sustainability, and made a pledge that by the end of this year, 100 percent of the seafood they purchase will come from sustainable or responsible sources. High Liner Foods sources its seafood from 30 countries.
“On our end of the supply chain, we are dealing with larger suppliers worldwide,” Tilley says. “Sustainability is very important.”
The “smaller portions for smaller prices” trend is a big challenge for chefs, Tilley says. Chefs know they have to cut back on food costs in an uncertain economic environment, but at the same time, consumers expect a high quality meal for the right menu price. Chefs are adapting by trimming the center-of-plate portion by just an ounce or two and crafting the dish with more ingredients.
“We’re seeing a reduction in size, but not from eight ounces to four—maybe eight to six,” Tilley says. “Chefs are really mindful about passing expenses on to customers.” Instead of upping the price, chefs are using new cuts of seafood, exotic spices and flavors, and different species of fish to answer consumer demands for trendy, flavorful center-of-plate options.
Ethnic foods are big now, and people are more educated than ever about what makes a meal authentic for a country or region. People don’t go for just Asian food anymore, but for specifics such as Vietnamese or Thai, or Indian. Ten years ago, says Tilley, a restaurant might have offered a sort of mash-up of Tibetan food and Szechuan food. Today’s diners want exceptional flavors, and they want to be able to order everything from tikka masala to Moroccan couscous at a casual dining restaurant.
Along with bold flavors, consumers want minimally processed seafood. Meanwhile, chefs, mindful that the center of the plate has the highest food cost of the meal, want a protein that can generate some menu excitement. On top of all that, chefs also need to offer seafood entrees that are healthful.
High Liner Foods recently launched Fire Roasters Flame-Seared Seafood under its FPI brand. The line includes Citrus Peppercorn Tilapia, Thai Basil Tilapia, Southwestern StyleCod, Rustic Italian Cod, Smokey Applewood Salmon, Island Grill Tilapia and Bacon Bourbon BBQ Salmon. This new line provides the flavor consumers are looking for while keeping back-of-the-house costs down. High Liner Foods uses a flame roasting technique so that the restaurant or foodservice kitchen does not have to buy expensive equipment—not to mention regular shipments of wood or coal—or worry about finding skilled labor to roast fish in the back of the house.
“Roasting seafood requires much skill, and an expensive grill to make it presentable and edible,” Tilley explains. “This takes the guesswork out of it.” He adds that custom-built equipment designed to roast seafood can cost up to $5,000, and operators do not want to incur that expense.
Operators just need an oven to bake the Fire Roasters products, which require only 15 to 18 minutes to bake in a convection oven, or 25 minutes in a conventional oven. The flame-seared seafood also features an important benefit: flavor. Even as the healthy trend grows, breaded, fried seafood is still the most widely sold seafood overall, Tilley notes. While that might be a nostalgic favorite for some cafeteria customers and restaurant diners, consumers who want something trendy and more healthful will opt for the herbs and spices, lemon, brown sugar and pepper that make the Fire Roasters line flavorful.
The Fire Roasters line does not use batter so it does not contain extra fat, and the herbs and spices impart flavor without extra salt, so this is a low-sodium option for the center of the plate. While traditional seafood entrees may have 600 milligrams of sodium, Tilley says, this line has less than 400.
Healthy eating is just one of the trends that are top of mind for diners right now. Consumers are surrounded by a wealth of information regarding what they eat. They expect the places they dine, and the chefs that prepare their meals, to be aware of these trends as well. In the seafood arena, chefs can answer these demands by serving diverse varieties of seafood with an upscale presentation and trendy seasonings without increasing cost or sacrificing flavor.
For more information and recipes, visit http://www.highlinerfoodservice.com/en/product/fire-roasters-flame-seared-seafood-181.html. Consumers are really trying to eat more fruits and vegetables, but when the entrées arrive at the restaurant table, all eyes are on the center of the plate.