Thursday, 31st August, 2017
American flavour trends have taken a firm hold of the UK QSR and food-to-go market. Bigger and better flavours and menu options inspired by the USA are continuing to gain momentum in the eyes and palates of the British public. The nation’s fondness towards food inspired by America has meant we have been treated to foods such as; stacked pancakes dripping in maple syrup, hotdogs filled with cheese and brisket and loaded cheese burgers, filled with all-American mustard.
Anna Mae, founder of Anna Maes Mac & Cheese, a London based food truck who serve their famous American inspired food directly from a giant cast iron skillet, explains; “I think the flavours have universal appeal. The States is such melting pot of cultures and this is reflected in the food, all of the best bits from different parts of the world come together and create fantastic flavours.”
On why she believes the UK population continue to hold this cuisine so dearly, Anna thinks the appeal lies in the wider foodie movement. A movement that looks to “play with flavours and cuisines, and American food really embodies this, so it’s naturally become popular.”
Thomas Bar owner of The Smoke Haus, an all-American barbeque restaurant inspired by the flavours of the South, attributes the success of his restaurant in the UK to big, bold flavour combinations. “We are growing, it’s been very well received since we started 5 years ago,” explains Thomas. “Because of the comforting nature and the authenticity we bring, we believe that it is going to continue to be well received for years to come. We offer great big bold flavours for a hearty appetite.”
It is this hearty appetite that American cuisine so readily contributes to and with US brands such as Shake Shack, Five Guys and Smashburger all experiencing success on this side of the pond, the appetite for American tailored service and food is growing.
This easy transition into the ‘American way’ is, according to Thomas, down to the fact that people love the American culture, from service with a smile, to chilli dogs, Buffalo wings and everything in between. “A lot of huge brands started in America 30-40 years ago and we do follow American culture and we love it a lot,” adds Thomas. “A combination of big appetites, hearty food and the great attitude Americans have when it comes to eating out.”
“We felt there was an opportunity to bring terrific American food to Britain. America is very well known for McDonalds & KFC, but there are some fantastic home smoked food being produced over there that we wanted to replicate.”
Anmarie Spaziano, owner of Annie’s Burger Shack, who makes handcrafted traditional American burgers, believes the differences between American and UK flavour preferences are not too far apart. She explains; “The big craze of television celebrity chefs and wonderful recipes shown on TV and food markets, give a huge range of choice that has never been seen before, it’s made huge changes to eating habits the UK as well.”
The UK has been exposed to years of different styles, tastes and flavours according to Anmarie. She believes this is happening due to consumers travelling a lot more frequently and are therefore much more open to new flavours. “People travel out of the country and are much more open to foods from the respective countries,” adds Anmarie and of course, people also love traditional food of nostalgia.”
“When I started I think people viewed American food only as fast food outlets or take away fried chicken, or American style pizzas. The UK has come so incredibly far in its tastes for trying new tastes I hardly recognise the way it used to be!”
She continued; “My whole ethos was about the capability of having people who made choices how to eat, to be able to sit together and enjoy their meals equally. And because of that, I think people quickly picked up on our inclusivity.”
• Anna Mae, Founder, Anna Maes
• Anmarie Spaziano, Owner, Annie’s Burger Shack
• Darragh Gilhawley, Head of Business Development, Big Al’s Foodservice
• Tom Styman-Heighton, Development Chef, Funnybones
• Aine Melichar, Brand Manager, Kerrymaid
• So Him Fong, Managing Director, King Asia
• Philippa Norton, Marketing Manager, New York Bakery Company
• Thomas Barr, Owner, The Smoke Haus
• Robert Burns, Marketing Controller, Westlers Hotdogs
What makes American Inspired food so popular to consumers?
“The rise of street food has brought a range of exotic influences and cuisines into retail outlets and onto menus in recent years, so consumers are much more open to trying new dishes and are actively seeking out new trends and influences, and American food has led the way in this,“ begins Robert Burns, Marketing Controller, Westlers Hotdogs.
“One of the reasons why we think American inspired food is so popular with customers is that it takes fairly familiar ingredients and flavours such as a classic hot dog and presents them in a new way, packed with flavour and arranged in a range of ways.”
Burgers, hot dogs and ribs etc. have become so much a part of our culture that we can almost claim them as our own,” adds Tom Styman-Heighton, Development Chef, Funnybones Foodservice.
“They offer tasty but not too challenging alternatives to British dishes, can be dressed to include so many delicious flavours, and represent comfort food to many. In the pub, café, restaurant, street food or canteen environments they offer hearty, meaty dishes that customers enjoy and chefs can serve quickly and easily. Along with British classics such as fish and chips, pies and steaks, American dishes are often at the heart of a casual dining menu.”
“American-style food is famous for being filling and tasty, and customers love to indulge in American themed dishes,” adds Aine Melichar, Brand Manager, Kerrymaid. “There is a growing demand for people to eat what they want, how they want, when they want, and American-style dining does just that.”
There are many key factors as to why the UK has such an affinity for American style food and flavours, according to Philippa Norton, Marketing Manager, New York Bakery Company. She explains; “We love American food because it’s big on flavour, big on value and menus often offer a broad range of dishes that appeal to a wide range of people.”
“We also associate American inspired menus with the great service that the US is so well known for. But whilst American inspired often focusses on eat-in concepts we mustn’t overlook the huge contribution America has made to food to go and nothing is more quintessentially American than the New York style bagel, which is continuing to grow in popularity in the UK out of home sector.”
With a large number of ingredients on offer, American cuisine also fits well within the trend of personalisation, allowing customers to scale their toppings and sauces up or down to create a bespoke dish. Robert elaborates; “Hot dogs are perfectly placed to capitalise on this trend as they offer a high-quality, tasty pork base for outlets to experiment with toppings such as cheeses, sauces and even extra meats and chillies, to create their own signature dish. The possibilities really are endless.”
“As consumers are becoming more conscious of their disposable income spend and are therefore eating out less, expectations of the dining out experience have risen and American food really meets this challenge. Consumers expect more from their meal and American food and the way it’s served offers a range of theatrical options to make diners’ experiences all that more memorable, and more likely that they’ll return and recommend to a friend.”
Darragh Gilhawley, Head of Business Development, Big Al’s Foodservice adds; “The rise of Americana and diner-style outlets has been prominent in recent times and the burger market in the UK is now estimated to be worth a whopping £3.28b (Mintel, 2016).”
“Consumers aged 18-24 are the biggest group of customers pushing the burger and Americana trend, and their search for new and innovative ways to eat make the easily personalised burger an obvious attraction. What’s more American food is renowned for its great taste. A varied range of classic American dishes are staple items on food to go and QSR menus.”
What are the latest trends you have noticed in the American-inspired food sector?
Philippa explains; “Last year it was all about nostalgia and comfort food but this year the UK has seen a surge in popularity in concepts such as US style smoke houses and barbecue pits, and a resurgence of premium burger concepts, led by the roll out of Five Guys.”
“In London there are now several outlets and street food vendors offering delicious bagels with traditional New York style fillings taking inspiration from a food the city is famous for. We’ve also seen a rise in big flavours and items that can offer menu versatility, which is why we launched the cheese bagel into foodservice and suggested recipes like the Scrambled Egg and Bacon Cheese Bagel with Harissa Ketchup.”
Of course one of the main attributes of American food is size; bigger is always better and this trend continues to amplify that. Robert elaborates; “Items such as ‘Freakshakes’, which take a classic American menu item and super-size it, often with the addition of another item such as cheesecakes, cookies or doughnuts are becoming increasingly popular.”
“Part of this popularity is definitely fuelled by the current Instagram culture, as people are sharing images of their food on the popular social media site. This means that the look of their meal plays a more important role than ever in their selection, so food that has a ‘wow factor’ and will create a buzz on social media is likely to be more popular.”
“Hot dogs are ideally suited to these trends as they can be topped and added to, producing spectacular edible creations. Westlers beechwood smoked, 90% pork frankfurters provide a high quality, great tasting base for vendors to serve in a number of ways. Topping hot dogs high with sauces, cheese, salad and even other meats such as pulled pork or chicken is highly popular right now.
Aine adds; “Burgers remain one of the best loved and most popular out of home menu choices and over recent years there has been a burger revolution, with customers increasingly seeking exciting flavours, topping and texture combinations to personalise their experience.”
“It is important for operators to acknowledge new burger trends and the on trend formats to serve them in. Burgers are famous for being filling and tasty allowing consumers to indulge and are key to creating a successful American inspired menu as they offer satisfaction and great taste to customers.”
As Development Chef at Funnybones, Tom has noted three trends that are currently leading American inspired food; premiumisation, regionality and sweet treats.
He explains; “The trend for premiumisation has led to the ‘gourmet burger’ moving upmarket. Burgers need to be made from great quality meat and served in freshly baked buns, but when it comes to service it is the dressings, relishes, toppings, dips and sides which add the excitement and variety.”
“The style of topping, size of serving and quality of the ingredients can transform the same humble burger into a spicy offering fit for a lads’ night out, or for a truffle-topped gourmet treat. We recommend that operators choose their side dishes, sauces and relishes carefully to represent their offering. Too much choice can be off putting, and a venue catering for families will need to offer some non-spicy variations.”
“The second trend is consistent with the appetite for local and regional produce in this country. Increasingly foods from the regions of America are being demanded, and we seem to be moving away from an all-embracing “American” theme, to foods that epitomise the cuisine of individual states.”
“Finally, and tying into current trends for indulgence, the sweet taste of America is in demand. Stateside they take their desserts seriously, and some of the world’s most desirable sweet flavour combinations come from the great melting pot of American culture.”
He concludes; “Americans like their classics when it comes to desserts and often opt for variations on a theme. For example, we have recently introduced three new puddings which feature chocolate chip cookies, a biscuit that is popular all over the world but originated in Massachusetts in 1938.”
Aine agrees, and can see value in shakes; “Ice cream shakes are very on-trend. The key to creating a popular shake menu is to allow customers to customise their shakes by offering a wide variety of flavours and indulgent toppings.”
“Offering a wide range of choice lets customers be in control whilst also appealing to those with different and unconventional tastes.”
What impact have US food chains operating in the UK had on independent businesses serving American-inspired food?
“There are various US food chains that are successful in the UK; this includes the fast food outlets such as McDonalds, KFC and Burger King,” begins So Him Fong, Managing Director, King Asia.
“These three fast food restaurants have expanded over the years. They are followed by TGI Fridays, Planet Hollywood and Red Lobster who are in the same fast food market but provide a more sit in restaurant service. Independent businesses in the UK have embraced this cuisine and with the likes of Frankie and Benny’s and Arbuckle’s, are also successful.”
He concludes; “There are Steakhouses as well, including Outback Steakhouse, a US food chain which can be compared to Miller and Cater, an Independent UK business, although Miller and Carter have taken a premium approach. For example they dedicate the importance of how to cook a steak on their website suggesting they have professional chefs providing deluxe products with a high-end experience. There’s definitely enough potential for both these US and UK operated businesses to succeed because the food service industry is ever growing.”
Tom adds; “Whilst some US food chains have given American food a bad name in previous years, there is a general recognition now that these do not represent the best of the food from the continent. The chains that offer high quality American food have helped to re-educate the British consumer so that many are now much more aware how the best American food really should taste.”
“We recommend that a specialist wholesaler such as Funnybones Foodservice is a vital part of bringing the true taste of America to the consumer.”
How can businesses ensure they stand out from the competition in the American-Inspired market?
Darragh explains; “As well as an extensive product range, Big Al’s has developed a series of branded concepts, which have all been designed for different outlets to meet a variety of consumer needs. Food is no longer just about consumption.”
“Modern consumers are sophisticated and are looking for more than just taste, and more towards an inclusive, exciting dining experience. Branded food concepts are a way to provide new and exciting flavours to consumers, whilst delivering extensive benefits to operators and allowing them to stand apart from the competition of the market.”
“Big Al’s Diner is ideal for the American inspired market and through its authentic USA themed design helps bring the cuisine to life. Operators can encourage customers to take a bite into the great tastes of America through the fun and inviting 1950’s classic diner vibe. This concept is designed to transform establishments into on-trend, go-to eateries for snacks, on the go meals and all day dining. From double-stacked burgers to loaded hot dogs, this concept provides outlets with the iconic Americana feel.”
Robert adds; “QSRs can be quite flexible in the way they position their offering, so keeping up with trends and reflecting what’s currently popular in their menus will always help increase sales.”
“However, while trends play a part in bringing in new customers, a high quality product will always shine through and guarantee return custom time and time again.”
“The British public is well travelled and knowledgeable about food across the world, and will not be attracted by poor quality imitation dishes,” explains Tom. “The operator needs to ensure that dishes are made to top American standards and that relishes, dips and sides reflect the true taste of the USA.”
He adds; “As a specialist wholesaler of American and Tex-Mex foods, Funnybones Foodservice is uniquely qualified to uncover the best of authentic and regional cuisine in the Americas. We offer a huge variety of these products from sides such as sweet potato chips and Monterey Jack cheese to American classics such as Ranch and Caesar dressings. We also offer high quality, frozen, readymade American-style burgers, hot dogs and BBQ ribs ready to be cooked up and dressed onsite.”
“The key is take the concept and adapt it to your operation and customer profile,” adds Philippa. “Brunch is continuing to grow but we have also seen the emergence of the ‘all day brunch menu’ showing that for consumers, day parts are merging and people are tending to eat when they are hungry rather than the traditional model of breakfast, lunch and dinner.”
“Authenticity is also important and is something that many smokehouses have done really well by using genuine BBQ recipes and techniques from different regions in the US.”
So Him Fong adds; “A real way of standing out from all these businesses is to invest in our Mayflower ‘Southern Style’ Gravy. It is a completely niche product and a new release into the marketplace.”
“For those of you who want something new to offer with those fish and chips this is perfect for you. The American-Inspired market will continue to grow and it’s definitely worth investing in this cuisine.”
What does the future hold for the American-inspired food industry?
“America will continue to drive innovation in the UK - what takes off in the States always arrives on our shores 6-12 months later,” establishes Philippa. “For the New York Bakery Co that means we are constantly monitoring trends and developing new ideas to help our customers stay ahead of the curve.”
“The future of this area of the industry is going down the route of healthier options. Customers are becoming more health conscious,” adds So Him Fong. “This is where our product ‘Southern Style Gravy Mix’ comes in; we wanted to stand out by making this gravy both mouth-watering in one regard but is also a healthier alternative to other gravies.”
Tom summarises; “The market for good quality American foods is only growing. With Brexit negotiations underway there is much talk of importing more US foods into this country.”
“There are many hurdles to overcome before this happens, but with the opportunities for more trade with America, the likelihood is that we will be embracing the American food culture even more widely, and that our appetite for food that showcases regional cuisines from right across that vast country will grow.”