“Flavor of Love” sounds like a slogan from a McDonald’s ad campaign. However, it’s actually a VH1 reality TV show that features 90s rap star Flavor Flav, and his search for the woman of his dreams.

Just as contestants flaunt their best attributes to compete for Flav’s affection, in the foodservice arena, chicken, beef and seafood proteins compete to entice operators and patrons. Here, the criteria are different - attributes of convenience, health and, well, flavor, are critically important.

 Chicken had an especially hot year with Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonald’s and Burger King all updating and/or adding to their poultry offerings.

 This should be no surprise because per-capita chicken consumption has been on the rise for the past 25 years, reports the Chicago Tribune in a recent article on McDonald’s new offerings. Foodservice operators are lured by chicken’s versatility said Bob Goldin, executive vice president of Technomic Inc., Chicago. “You can bread it, marinade it, make tenders or nuggets,” he added, according to the Tribune report.

 In fact, recent data from The NPD Group Inc., Port Washington, N.Y., and Datassential, Los Angeles, indicate that the chicken sandwich is the fastest growing menu item in American eateries. The two research groups also reported that Americans ate about 3.7 billion servings of chicken sandwiches at restaurants in the year ending November 2007 - an 8 percent increase over the year before. Part of this growth is due to chicken’s perceived healthfulness, but part of it’s due to chicken’s versatility.

 “Restaurant operators are realizing that they have to differentiate themselves by including new flavors and describing what’s offered,” said Jack Li, a Datassential relevance strategist in a statement. “We are seeing cheese appearing on more sandwiches and more interesting sauces across the board.”

 In May, McDonald’s announced its new chicken initiative: Southern-style chicken biscuits (for breakfast) and chicken sandwiches (for lunch and dinner). Meanwhile, in March, Kentucky Fried Chicken announced it would start test marketing KFC that is marinated, seasoned with herbs and spices and then grilled - rather than fried. Last September, Burger King began offering Flame-broiled Chicken Tenders, a lower fat option than traditional fried chicken tenders at 170 calories and 10 fat grams per four-piece serving.

 Chicken isn’t the only protein deserving of attention. Beef has seen changes - both big and small - on restaurant menus this year as well.

 The good old hamburger still gets lots of love from consumers. Research from Technomic showed that 85 percent of consumers said they eat burgers at least once a month. Popular new twists on the standby include build-your-own burger options and novel-sized burgers, including small, bite-sized burgers.

 In step with the bite-size burger trend this year was Advance Foods’ Tenderbroil Mini Steak Burgers and Mini Charbroil Beef Patties. The Enid, Okla.-based company’s mini burgers come fully-cooked in both square and round shapes.

 On the other end of the spectrum, there are consumers looking for heartier meals. St. Louis-based Hardee’s says its demographic - 18- to 34-year-old males - crave “bigger, meatier sandwiches.” This May, Hardee’s added the Prime Rib Thickburger to its menu, according to a Business Week report. Even as other fast food chains are paying more attention to health and wellness, Hardee’s continues to crank out sandwiches with more than 700 calories and 40 grams of fat.

 Andrew Puzder, president of Hardee’s parent CKE Restaurants Inc., told Business Week, “The way we sell quality is this is a burger you’d probably pay $15 to $20 for someplace else, and at Hardee’s you pay about $4.50.”

 Also looking to give consumers a good deal is Taco Bell with its “Why Pay More?” campaign, also launched this May. New (very) low-priced menu additions include the meat-based Cheesy Double Beef Burrito, at 89 cents and the Big Taste Taco at 99 cents. It’s important for consumers to be able to find affordable options amid rising food and gas costs, said Taco Bell President Greg Creed in an interview with Bruce Horovitz of USA Today.

 And for those looking for a beef-based entrée outside the bun and taco shell, Tyson Foodservice, Springdale, Ark., introduced three new fully-cooked beef products this year: Ropa Vieja Pot Roast, Yankee Pot Roast and Prime Rib Style Beef.

 Also new on menus this year is Perfectly Seasoned Fish from Phillips Seafood. Using “flavor sheet” technology, each piece of fish is flash frozen and the flavors are time-released creating a “perfectly seasoned” fillet, the Baltimore-based company says. Flavors include: White Wine & Herb Mahi, Citrus Peppercorn Mahi and Lemon Peppercorn Tuna.

 Although seafood traditionally is a less popular menu item than other proteins, Phillips reports that Americans spend nearly $50 billion a year on seafood and two-thirds of that is in restaurants.

 Other new seafood products added to menus this year include Opah Steaks from Hillman Oyster Co., Dickinson, Texas. The steaks can be prepared as sashimi, broiled, grilled or smoked the company says.

 Noted Tricia Roberts, Hillman’s marketing director, “We are one of the first companies to introduce Opah to the U.S. market. With its versatility to be prepared in a variety of ways, Opah is an extremely attractive option to restaurants.”