New sides feature gourmet flavors, ingredients.
J.R. Simplot Co.


Watch a couple episodes of Bravo’s reality TV show “The Real Housewives of Orange County,” and it quickly becomes clear how much has changed since the apron-and-beehive-hairdo days of the 1950s. These West Coast moms sport the latest fashions, and high tail it from power lunches with business clients to their children’s lacrosse games to glamorous soirees.

The “real” housewives’ privileged lifestyles might not be typical, but they still have at least one thing in common with the average American consumer - they are constantly on the go. Data from a recent study by Tyson Foodservice, Springdale, Ark., and TechnomicInc., Chicago, indicated that this increasingly common, hectic lifestyle has caused snack consumption to rise.

According to the report - in which 521 consumers were surveyed - many consumers say three meals a day is a thing of the past. Forty-five percent of consumers indicate they eat a snack in the evening; 35 percent say they eat an afternoon snack; and 28 percent report eating a morning snack.

“Today, consumers are less reliant on the clock to determine when to eat. They let their own schedules dictate when to eat, rather than having their schedules revolve around meal times,” according to Technomic and Tyson Foodservice report in Spring 2008 Insights & Discovery, which details the study. Further, consumers are looking for fresh, portable and small-sized options they can enjoy throughout the day.

For its part, Tyson expanded its offerings this spring with Buffalo Crunch Sliders bite-sized sandwiches and Monterey Sausage Wraps, snack-size wraps with grilled veggies, cheese and ranch dressing.

“The ‘around-the-clock dining’ trend has made its way mainstream with the popularity of time-neutral menu items such as McDonald’s Snack Wrap and the late-night focus of the Taco Bell Fourthmeal,” Tyson and Technomic say in their report. In addition, research from Business Insights, London, indicates that snacking occasions are forecast to increase 3.6 percent in the United States through 2008.

McDonald’s, Oak Brook, Ill., launched its Snack Wrap line - snack-sized tortillas wrapped around grilled or crispy chicken, sauce, cheese and lettuce - in 2006 to much success. Last summer, McDonald’s added a Chipotle BBQ variety to the Snack Wrap line-up. McDonald’s also offers snack size Fruit & Walnut Salads, Fruit ‘N Yogurt Parfaits and Apple Dippers.

While options such as these offer consumers healthful snacks or side dishes, many are looking for more flavor and excitement. In fact, Asian-inspired snacks and appetizers were ranked as the “hottest” category menu trend in a National Restaurant Association (NRA) chef survey.

Here, you’ll find plenty of new options as well. TMI Trading Corp., Brooklyn, N.Y., launched Tang’s Natural whole wheat pot stickers at the NRA show in Chicago in May. The pot stickers are made with natural ingredients and come in five flavors: Seven Whole Grain with Chicken, Chicken with Celery, Chicken with Vegetable, Chicken Teriyaki and Vegetable.

Meanwhile, Schwan’s Foodservice, Marshall, Minn., put a twist on the egg roll format with its new Minh brand Cheeseburger Egg Rolls - a roller-grill offering with the flavors of a cheese burger rolled up in a grab-and-go egg roll format.

Similarly, Menu Inspirations added to its Asian offerings with Buffalo Style Chicken Spring Rolls in September under its Kabobs brand. The company also added new offerings to its Southwest line with Artichoke &Peppadew Trumpets (cornucopia-shaped flour tortillas stuffed with cream cheese, artichokes and Peppadew peppers) and its skewers with Mediterranean Chicken, Fig & Tomato Kabobs.

Also exploring Mediterranean flavors this year was the J.R. Simplot Co., Boise, Idaho. It added a line of Mediterranean-inspired Gourmet Pasta Blend side dishes called Upsides. These individually quick frozen gourmet pasta-based sides feature “unique ingredients, colorful vegetables and distinctive herbs and seasonings,” and can be added to salads, stuffed inside wraps or just heated and served, Simplot says. Varieties include Roasted Apple Orzo and Orzo Toscano.

For those consumers craving more traditional sides, McCain Foods USA put a new spin on its classic french fries. The Lisle, Ill.-based company added a healthier option - Sweet Potato Crinkle Fries made with nutrient-dense sweet potatoes - and a breakfast option - Babycakes Potato Patties. And McCain Foods USA Chief Executive Officer Frank van Schaayk says the company has transformed all of its french fries into better-for-you products.

“Here [in french fries], what we have done is reduce the saturated fat as much as possible and eliminate the trans fats. Next, we’ll reduce sodium,” he told R&FF in January. - C.C.