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House-made pickles and axe throwing: How brands turn trends into reali Jason Kindig

House-made pickles and axe throwing: How brands turn trends into reality

Customers crave memorable experiences, panelists say

This is part of Nation’s Restaurant News' special coverage of the 2018 MUFSO conference, taking place Oct. 1-3 at the Hyatt Regency at Reunion Tower in Dallas. Follow coverage of the event on and tweet with us using #MUFSO. Stay connected on the go by downloading the MUFSO app.

“Food is important. But if you’re not doing it in a compelling, unique way, it’s a tough haul.”

So said Brian Ingram, chief development officer of Williston Holding Company, which is opening two very experience-focused dining concepts in Minnesota: Cargo Food Authority, a food hall of sorts in shipping containers; and Bus Stop, a converted 1920s bus terminal-turned-drinking-and-dining spot.

Ingram on Monday shared his views on converting trends to reality at a panel titled “Customer 20/20: How hard is it to read the customer’s minds?”

Customers today are looking for an experience, said Ingram.

While the food quality at restaurants today has to be amazing, the menu alone is not enough to bring in guests who are looking for more — like gathering spaces with an Instagram-worthy design and small-batch beers, and even games like axe throwing.

“Because nothing says safety like alcohol and axe throwing,” joked Ingram.

Restaurant operators today need to focus on Gen Z, now that most Millennials have become parents and have different needs, said Marci Needham, vice president, insights and category management for Ventura Foods.

Generation Z, which now represents about one third of the global population and has $44 billion in spending power, is fundamentally  different, “never having grown up in a world without Google,” she said.

They are multi-racial, educated about new foods and passionate about making a difference in the world. Gen Z is less likely to read text and more likely to engage with brands on multiple devices, from smartphones to tablets, responding mostly to tempting photos.

And they expect instant gratification, she added. “We have an entire generation that doesn’t know what it’s like to wait more than two days for anything,” said Needham.

Gen Z wants wholesome, clean and fresh food, and they’re willing to pay more for quality. They love tech-enabled restaurants, and they want authentic, diverse and unique options on menus, she said.

At established chains like Culver Franchising Systems Inc., trends are viewed through the lens of the brand’s primary mission, which is to never compromise on quality of product, said Quinn Adkins, director of Culver’s menu development.

At Culver’s, for example, recent menu additions include a pretzel burger that has become the second-most successful limited-time offer ever launched, featuring house-pickles and a Wisconsin cheddar sauce made without preservatives or stabilizers which Adkins described as best in class.

“It’s very, very tricky to handle, but the quality shines through,” he said.

Andrew Gruel, CEO and founder of Slapfish Restaurant Group, said his fast-casual seafood concept stays less focused on passing trends but keeps the larger mission of serving crave-worthy sustainable seafood as the concept’s core.

“For us it’s about ‘choose the dish, not the fish,’” he said. “The fish changes at each location, based on what’s available and local operating partners.”

Though the chain has certain parameters for ingredients, the fundamental goal is to encourage Americans to eat more American seafood.

“We leave it to the guest to intellectually navigate the notion of sustainability,” he said.

Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected] 

Follow her on Twitter: @livetodineout

The MUFSO bag insert sponsors are Jones Dairy Farm, Clemens Foodservice, Merisant, Gamay Food Ingredients and NRAEF

The track sponsors are Daiya and Omnivore

The track & session sponsors are Shift Pixy, MGH, Conversant, Oracle America, Inc., Zivelo, APSM Systems, Bringg and Ventura Foods

Breakfast is sponsored by Brill

Breaks are sponsored by Royal Cup and Smoothie King

The Hot Concepts celebration is sponsored by V&V Supremo Foods, Fonterra Foodservices (USA), Inc., Thomas Foods International and Impossible Foods

The lanyard sponsor is Clemens Foodservice

The hotel key sponsor is Matthew’s Real Estate

Shake, Sparkle & Stir is sponsored by The Coca-Cola Company

The Kitchen Hero Cook-off is sponsored by Texas Pete

The offsite tour of Legacy Hall is sponsored by Corrigo

TAGS: Food & Drink
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