Monthly Archives: January 2014

Pumpkin Spice Lattes, Sure. But Beef Jerky?

Although Starbucks’ pumpkin spice latte may have popularized the flavor, pumpkin spice was turning up everywhere this holiday season.  According to a recent article in The New York Times, there were 79 different pumpkin spice-flavored menu items at the top restaurant chains this season. The choices are not just coffees, or even bagels or muffins—pumpkin spice coffeepumpkin beer and pumpkin pancakes both appeared on menus. The number of pumpkin drinks available has increased by 400% in the last 5 years. The flavor also turned up at the grocery store—pumpkin pie marshmallows and pumpkin yogurt were seasonal selections this holiday.

So what makes up pumpkin spice? Remarkably, pumpkin spice products often lack a pumpkin flavor.  Even Starbucks’ latte contains no actual pumpkin in the pumpkin spice sauce.  Instead, pumpkin spice suggests spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves, the flavorings often used in pumpkin pie.

For the tenth anniversary of the Starbucks drink, it even had its own hashtag (#PSL).  Part of the charm for consumers is that the drink is only available for a limited time, and as a result, many articles documented the high number of tweets and overall excitement about the drink.  Of course, the growing popularity also led to a backlash—including one writer’s attempt at the pumpkin spice diet.  Although consumers will eventually tire of pumpkin spiced everything, it seems that this flavor is here to stay.

And yes, about that beef jerky: it’s a real product.  Ed’s Roadhouse Jerky has a Spicy Pumpkin Jerky (“has a nice chile pepper flavor and a moderate level of heat”), but you might have to wait until next season to try it.  It’s currently listed as out of stock on their website.




Chocolate: Still on trend, and heading in new directions.

It might not seem possible, but chocolate is becoming even more popular. Chocolate is already a favorite dessert—64% of restaurants offer a chocolate dessert, up from 53% in 2005, according to a menu research firm. The latest trends include a variety of chocolate new trends in chocolateflavors.

White chocolate is growing in popularity.  Although it’s not truly a chocolate—it’s actually a blend of cocoa butter, sugar, milk solids and salt—it’s showing up more often as a dessert option.  White chocolate does not contain the cocoa solids or the antioxidant powers of chocolate, but its milder sweetness combines well with other flavors.  White chocolate and cherry cookies, white chocolate mochas, and combinations of white and dark chocolate are all trendy options.

Mint chocolate is another popular combination.  Around the holidays, peppermint and chocolate combinations are popular, such as candy cane peppermint pie on a chocolate crust or peppermint bark.  Or, ask the Girl Scouts: Thin Mints are their best seller, making up 25% of cookie sales in 2012.  Mint and chocolate are also a frequent combination around St. Patrick’s Day.  Traditional, it’s not—but the continuing popularity of McDonald’s Shamrock Shake makes it clear that people love that green color.

Chocolate desserts are often topped or combined with berries—a little tartness to go along with all that sweet.  And perhaps it makes consumers feel a bit healthier, too?

As for candy bars, there are plenty of new things popping up inside chocolate bars, too.  People who enjoy a Nestle Crunch bar may be interested in chocolate bars with brown rice or puffed quinoa, which give that same type of crunch. Then, of course, there’s bacon.  Although the first bacon and chocolate combinations seemed intended to surprise the consumer, this salty and sweet combination has stuck around. Tea flavored ganache and caramels and exotic spices in chocolate are also turning up in more places.  Alternative nut butters—almond, walnut, and cashew—are making new appearances in candy bars as well.



2014 Trends in Corporate Dining

As we welcome a new year, it’s a good time to look ahead to new dining trends. What 2013 trends are still hot, and what will your employees be looking for next year?

  1. Calorie-dense, healthy snacks.  A great example is nuts. Evidence continues to accumulate that nuts are good for your health.  People who eat nuts are less likely to corporate-diningdie of cancer, heart disease, and respiratory disease. The easiest choice is peanut butter, which is a good source of protein, but nuts can also be found in trail mix and granola bars, or added to salads and wraps.
  2. Allergy sensitivities: Gluten-free offerings were hot in 2013, and will continue to be popular.  Although few people are actually allergic to gluten, many people perceive gluten-free choices as healthy.  Non-wheat options, such as rice bowls, quinoa, and buckwheat are popular, because choosing gluten-free does not necessarily mean avoiding carbs.
  3. Vegan and Vegetarian Choices: More consumers are looking for meatless options, at least some of the time.  With the popularity of “Meatless Mondays,” flexitarians and others looking to make healthy choices will seek out these options.
  4. Fresh and local: Locally-grown produce and local sourcing of meat continue to be important to employees.  As vegetables take center stage in a variety of meals, the variety and quality of vegetables become more important.
  5. Healthy Eating Backlash:  Not everyone is looking to make healthy choices, so full fat options will remain popular. To makes those indulgences worthwhile, some employees will be looking for real cheese, fresh breads, and other “real” ingredients.
  6. It’s always snack time: Eating is less tied to the clock. Possibilities include extending breakfast foods to all day options: mixing the sweet and savory, such as chicken and waffles, or serving a spicy breakfast wrap at lunchtime.  Other employees may be looking for a more substantive snack around 4:00 pm, such as a smaller portion of a “real” meal.
  7. New flavors: Trend experts suggest that diners will continue to be interested in ethnic and street foods, particularly in sauces and dips. Pickled and sour foods, such as Kim chi and other pickled vegetables, are expected to become more popular in the workplace.
  8. Technology trends: Apps for consumers, with menus and daily deals, will continue to be popular in 2014.  Other growing technology trends include mobile payment options and using social media for market and loyalty programs—all of which USConnect provides, and has been a leader in bringing to the corporate food service market.



Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions at the Office Vending Machine

You had a healthy breakfast, a salad at lunch… but now it’s 4:00, and all you can think about is a candy bar.  How are you going to keep your New Year’s resolutions at work?178446005

First, make sure you’re listening to your body.  Are you just in the routine of having a snack at the same time every day?  Take a walk down the hall to visit a coworker, and be sure to drink plenty of water during the day.

Still hungry? In that case, it’s time to make some good snack choices.  Experts say that choosing a snack that combines a protein and a carbohydrate will make you feel satisfied and give you more energy.  Nuts are a good choice because they contain fat, fiber, and protein and will leave you feeling less hungry. They also contain Vitamin E and omega-3s, which are good for your heart. Trail mix, crackers with peanut butter, or a salad with nuts are all good ways to get nuts into your diet. Other healthy snack options are hummus and vegetables or Greek yogurt (because it’s higher in protein than regular yogurt).

Or, swap out your old afternoon snack for something new. Instead of a Pop Tart, try a granola bar—it has less sugar, and more fiber and protein. Baked chips or pretzels don’t have the fat of regular chips, but still hit that salty craving.  Sunflower seeds or nuts have healthy fats that your body actually needs, instead of trans fats.

Tomorrow, plan to avoid that afternoon craving altogether by making better choices earlier in the day.  A lunch with lean protein and fiber can provide fuel for the whole afternoon. Choose a turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread, or a salad with grilled chicken, and you may find yourself powering through the rest of the workday.