Although an average of 85% of restaurants, fine dining and quick-service restaurants offer appetizers on their menus, nearly 35% of consumers eat appetizers at home, according to “MenuTrends Keynote Report,” produced by Chicago-based Datassential.

“Operators have found that appetizers provide not only a check-boosting opportunity for business growth, but also allow chefs to be more trendy and experimental,” says Brian Darr, managing director. “Appetizers are also often the first items shown on the menu, which gives the restaurant the perfect vehicle to create a positive first impression.”

However, diners view appetizers eaten in restaurants as an indulgence that allows them to try unique flavors and ingredients that typically can’t be prepared at home.

When considering an appetizer, consumers generally looked for easily-shareable finger food and rated garlic bread as their “most loved” appetizer, either as a stand-alone, straightforward starter or dressed up as bruschetta. Wings, shrimp cocktail and French fries ranked next. As for fries, 57% of restaurants have them on the menu, most often listed as a side dish, but the study found that over one-third of consumers said they love fries as an appetizer. 

Here’s a rundown of trends and new products infiltrating the snack, appetizer and sides dish sector.

Foodservice meets retail. Campbell Soup Co., Camden, N.J., partnered with TGI Fridays Restaurants, Carrollton, Texas, to launch a line of fresh refrigerated sides, soups and sauces. These Fridays-inspired menu options consist of 15 new SKUs, including Loaded Smashed Potatoes with Bacon, Bacon Mac & Cheese, Roasted Tomato Bisque with Bacon & Parmesan, Cheesy Chipotle Chili Sauce and Korean BBQ sauce. 

Fazoli’s, a Lexington, Ky.-based Italian quick-service restaurant, extended its brand to supermarkets with the launch of Mozzarella Stuffed Mini Breadsticks, Parmesan Boneless Chicken Nuggets, Chicken Alfredo Flatbread, Lasagna Fritta and Six Cheese Toasted Ravioli. This line placed fifth in this year’s Reader's Choice Best New Retail Products contest.

Auntie Anne’s, Lancaster, Pa., introduced a newly expanded collection of retail pretzel products. The line of at-home snacks includes Pretzel Pocket Sandwiches—which come in Five Cheese, Ham & Cheese and Cheese & Pepperoni—original Soft Pretzels, Pretzel Dogs and Pretzel Nuggets—both in Classic and Cinnamon Sugar varieties.

Homestyle comfort foods. The Flying Meatballs, East Hanover, N.J., now offers a line of small batch, authentic Italian meatballs made from all-natural ingredients. Created using authentic Italian recipes handed down for generations, they come portioned six to a package with tomato sauce in “The Classic” 50/50 (beef and veal), 100% Premium Beef, The Three Meats (beef, pork and veal), 100% Premium Turkey and Organic Grass-Fed varieties. 

Fueled with spices. Ian’s Natural Foods, Framingham, Mass., launched Sriracha Fire Sticks, which are hot-tasting, innovative French fry-shaped chicken sticks made with gluten-free, whole grain breading and antibiotic- and cage-free white chicken meat.

Willow Tree Farm, Attleboro, Mass., introduced Buffalo Chicken Salad and Southwest Chicken Salad, both packed with all white meat and the freshest ingredients.

Seafood SKUs. Matlaw’s, Gloucester, Mass., debuted a collection of new seafood product offerings. Considered the signature recipe of Valencia, Spain, Seafood Paella features authentic flavors with chunks of salmon and sweet, succulent mussels, shrimp and calamari tossed with vegetables and seasoned rice. Buffalo Popcorn Shrimp is loaded with buffalo flavor, while the Southern Country Fried Breaded Shrimp is seasoned with an original blend of southern spices.

Soups and broths. San Francisco-based Nona Lim debuted a new Asian broth line with Sze Chuan Spicy Broth, as well as Celery Root, Kale Potato and Spicy Rice soups.

Café Spice, New Windsor, N.Y., whipped up new artisanal soups, available in Chicken Mulligatawny, a mild version of an English recipe adapted from Indian cuisine that contains antibiotic-free, vegetarian-fed chicken, lentils, yogurt and freshly ground seasonings, and Madras Squash, a mild vegetarian soup featuring butternut squash, a rich orange blend of vegetables and coconut milk. The new vegan soups entail Bombay Lentil, which contains a blend of several different lentils, tomato, spinach, spicy garam masala, ginger, garlic, cumin, turmeric, red chili and fennel, along with Beetroot Rasam, which pairs pureed beets with a tomato base.

Blount Fine Foods, Fall River, Mass., released new Blount brand 10-ounce, grab-and-go Beef Chili with Beans made of ground beef, red and green bell peppers and kidney beans simmered in a rich, chunky tomato sauce with traditional spices.

Blount Fine Foods also added a line of 16-ounce organic soups, available in Organic Vegetable Chili, Minestrone, Tomato Bisque and Lentil & Chick Pea.

Vegetable based. Boston-based Veggie Patch debuted new Roasted Red Pepper Falafel, which combines palatte-pleasing tastes of red pepper and chickpeas with falafel spices, and Moroccan Red Lentil Cakes, which are made from 70% vegetables and blend red lentils with carrots and zesty spices to offer 8 grams of protein per serving.


To learn more about these and other new retail snacks, appetizers and side dishes, go to