Cool eats for hot streets
Brandi CowenFeatures Trends
Frozen treats offer great ways to boost business through the summer
If hot weather tends to have a chilling effect on your business, the
months ahead may look more like tough times than sunny days.
If hot weather tends to have a chilling effect on your business, the months ahead may look more like tough times than sunny days. Bolstering your menu with cool treats is a great way to beat the heat and keep customers coming back all through the lazy, hazy days of summer.
|Compound flavours that mimic other desserts are gaining ground, introducing consumers to a whole new world of frozen treats.|
Whether you’re thinking about introducing ice cream or pondering which frozen products will be hot this year, there are a lot of factors to consider.
“I think from a flavour standpoint, we’re seeing flavours trending along the same lines as what’s popular in beverages,” explains Andrew Waddington, vice-president with fsSTRATEGY Inc., a foodservice consulting firm based in Toronto. Waddington notes that coffee and green tea flavours are really gaining ground, as are cappuccino, latte and mocha flavours.
Compound flavours – that is, several simple flavours combined to create a more complex flavour profile – are also growing in popularity. Strawberry cheesecake is one compound flavour that’s really starting to take off.
Karyn Johnson, an associate with the firm, also points to the trend of compound ice cream flavours that mimic other desserts, such as French toast, apple pie, caramel corn, and sticky toffee cheesecake. Johnson says this trend has been building momentum for some time, and there’s no end in sight.
In terms of other frozen treats, Waddington notes that both single and compound flavours are popular in frozen yogurt, while single flavours are popular for sorbets. Single, simple flavours are also big in terms of gelato.
Both Waddington and Johnson advise that the trend toward cleaner labels has hit the frozen dessert segment, bringing simple labels as well as simple flavours. “Häagen-Dazs has a new line called ‘five’ that contains just five ingredients,” Johnson says. “Those certainly aren’t compound flavours. They’d be something like vanilla, but they’d be focusing on the quality of the single flavour as opposed to the uniqueness of a new blend of flavours.”
Other trends, such as the push for organic products, may also be worth following, provided they’re in line with your restaurant’s brand. “If the rest of the brand isn’t focused on those core social aspects, then that one product is going to stand out as a so-what?” Waddington says. “It’s nice to have that sort of thing, but it won’t be meaningful to improving your brand image.”
Building the brand
At Pomodori Artisan Pizza and Gelato in Rothesay, N.B., making gelato in house is key to keeping with the restaurant’s brand, which emphasizes food prepared from scratch, and from simple ingredients. The restaurant keeps its gelato display case stocked year-round. Throughout the winter, the quick-service eatery limits its offerings to five flavours at a time. This minimizes wastage, since the restaurant doesn’t keep its gelato past a week. Come spring, the case is kept fully stocked with an ever-changing assortment of flavours.
“We’ve developed the recipes for about 25 flavours and that just constantly rotates in the case,” explains Janice MacPherson, owner of Pomodori. Many of those flavours reflect the restaurant’s overall focus on using quality, local ingredients as much as possible. In late winter and early spring, the restaurant offers a maple gelato made with syrup from local producers. Throughout the summer months, strawberry, raspberry and strawberry-rhubarb sorbettos rotate through the case, as the necessary local product becomes available.
Pomodori also offers year-round favourites, such as the organic cookies and cream gelato the staff whip up three times a week to meet the demand from a loyal crowd of local high school students.
According to MacPherson, customers are quick to make suggestions for their favourite flavours that may be missing from the display case. But frequent requests may not always transform into frequent sales. Although lemon sorbetto is a top customer request, the tart taste appeals to a very particular segment of Pomodori’s clientele.
The gelato side of the business has opened up new opportunities for Pomodori, including dessert catering for weddings. “In the summer months, we’ve actually done a few weddings. We’ll do pans of gelato and they’ll take that and serve it as their dessert at their wedding reception,” MacPherson says. The top flavour for these occasions is raspberry, “because it comes out in this beautiful pink colour.”
Pomodori charges a standard price for all of its gelato. The restaurant calculates the cost of its base custard, and carefully tracks the cost of any additions needed to produce each flavour. “Our average cost for adding all the other ingredients is pretty much steady across the board,” MacPherson explains. “We use a pure hazelnut paste for our hazelnut, and the cost of adding the hazelnut paste is just as expensive as it is to use our 70 per cent baking chocolate that we use for our dark chocolate gelato.”
To promote their gelato – and their restaurant – in the community, Pomodori teams up with a local children’s bookstore to offer young readers a free gelato on their birthday. The restaurant also incorporates gelato into its customer loyalty program. At the time of the interview, Pomodori was giving away vouchers to loyalty members, offering a free gelato with their next pie purchase.
The restaurant also promotes its new flavours on Facebook and Twitter, giving fans and followers tantalizing tips about which flavours are chilling in the display case.
Introducing a new product often brings unique challenges, and frozen desserts are no exception.
When Without Papers Pizza, a casual restaurant located in Calgary’s Inglewood neighbourhood, opened its doors in February, the weather outside was frightful. With temperatures frequently dipping below the -30 C mark, the restaurant’s clientele was preoccupied with staying warm, not keeping cool. But despite its mid-winter opening, the pizzeria’s house-made ice cream was an instant hit.
The restaurant’s limited dessert menu features ice cream and floats. According to owner Jesse Johnson, this means that Without Papers Pizza sells “tons and tons” of ice cream.
For Johnson, the decision to make the ice cream in house, rather than source from a supplier, was an easy one. “We wanted to be able to ensure the quality and promote the fact that it’s made in house along with everything else that we do,” he says. The restaurant invested in an Italian Corema machine that can turn out five litres of ice cream in 15 minutes. The finished ice cream has a texture similar to soft-serve, and must be refrigerated to achieve and maintain the desired consistency. The ice cream is kept in one of two freezers: the front service unit is held at a slightly warmer temperature than the back storage unit, for easier scooping.
The decision to make ice cream in-house may have been easy, but perfecting the process was anything but. “We had to tweak our recipe quite a bit because the machine that we got makes it in such large volumes that the first few batches that we were making just weren’t right. They were either too granular or not sweet enough,” Johnson says. He sought advice from friends in the industry who operate the same machine, but even so, “it took us a good three or four weeks to actually nail it down.”
Storing the finished product properly is an ongoing challenge that keeps staff on their toes. “It’s not very exciting, but some nights you just look at the freezer and try to figure out why the ice cream’s not coming out perfect. You turn the freezer one degree up, then one degree down,” Johnson says. It’s not glamorous, but it is essential to maintaining the quality the restaurant strives for.
Without Papers Pizza offers four staple flavours – vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and pistachio – and two other options that vary from one day to the next. Servings are straightforward. Three scoops of ice cream are served in a bowl, or, a single scoop is served on the side of the restaurant’s chocolate cake, as an up-sell.
With summer on its way, Johnson is already thinking about how to give both sit-down diners and walk-in traffic a quintessential summer experience: the ice cream cone. “I don’t think we’re ever going to sell the cone in house. We might actually crumble up the cone and include it in the ice cream, just to get that texture,” Johnson explains. But, he adds, “We don’t want to do it in a cone in the restaurant just because I’m worried about a kid dropping it on the bench and ruining our fabric.”
He hasn’t decided yet if the restaurant will make ice cream cones in-house, but it’s a possibility he’s exploring.
Ice cream has sold well straight through a long, cold Prairie winter, leaving the restaurant little surplus supply to contend with. But now, with the arrival of summer, Johnson may find himself out of a job. “I’m the official get-rid-of-it person at night,” he admits, laughing.
As with any other product, the folks at fsSTRATEGY stress that knowing your customers is key to deciding if frozen desserts are a good fit for your pizzeria.
“I think if you’re looking at it from a pizzeria’s standpoint, you’re looking less at novelties and more at offering a pint format or something that can be shared amongst the family, because that’s what pizzas are great for,” Waddington says. He adds that pizza and ice cream are both party-oriented foods, so offering a pie and pint package may be a way to market your cool treats.
For smaller, individual servings, Johnson suggests mimicking the packaging of larger servings of well-known brands. "Take the traditional pint that Häagen-Dazs or Ben & Jerry’s comes in. They’re actually making a mini-version of that for individual servings, as opposed to those little sundae cups that we used to get, with a pop top and a little wooden spoon," she says.
Waddington adds that this is important because “people associate that pint with having a quality ice cream.” Miniaturizing that perceived quality is key to capturing business from today’s cash-strapped consumers.
Beat a summer slowdown by offering customers the hottest flavours of all the cool treats they crave. When heat waves hit, your restaurant will be top of mind for all those backyard barbecuers who can’t bear to stand over a flaming grill on a sweltering summer night.
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