Traveling the path of culinary inspiration with beef

ribeye steak plate

From The Beef Checkoff.

Whether they’re on campus or in the workforce, millennials love beef and think of it as flavorful, celebratory and social, according to research funded by The Beef Checkoff. In comparison, they see other proteins such as chicken and pork as “everyday.” That explains why millennials—the 80 million consumers born between 1980 and 2000—account for the majority of beef-eating occasions in foodservice, according to the research. Understanding and pleasing these food-savvy trendsetters will drive bottom-line success for operators for decades to come.

Of course, operators already know how well beef resonates with customers across the board. Indeed, beef is the No. 1 protein in foodservice in terms of volume, market share and the dollars it brings in, according to Technomic  (Usage and Volumetric Assessment of Beef in Foodservice: 2013 Edition). In fact, beef sales increased in volume by 79 million pounds in foodservice in the last year. Not only is beef demand at an all-time high now, consumers say they plan to eat as much beef—or more—over the next six months.

However, operators should not take millennials’ desire for beef for granted. They have different attitudes and habits than their older counterparts. For example, millennials love snacking, sharing dishes and ordering menu items “for the table.” They are crazy about customizing their food and expect lots of choices. They’re intrigued by global ingredients, unusual ethnic dishes, bold flavors and novelty. Beef Checkoff research shows that 53 percent of millennials enjoy trying new cuisines when they eat out, and 37 percent say that family and friends turn to them for dining recommendations, making them opinion leaders. These realizations are inspiring operators to create attention-grabbing, on-trend beef dishes that satisfy their cravings.

A dish such as the Ribeye Ramen Bowl, for example, with juicy beef ribeye filet slices over noodles in a delectable broth of sautéed shiitake mushrooms, ginger, garlic, kombu and organic red miso, typifies what millennials find exciting today: the rich, satisfying flavor of beef coupled with the lively spices, sauces and techniques of Asian, Latin-American or Mediterranean kitchens.

At Amphora Restaurant in Vienna, Va., the Mexican Cheesesteak Sub showcases thinly sliced Ribeye accompanied by jalapenos, melted pepper jack cheese and chipotle mayonnaise. In the same way, El Pollo Loco, the Costa Mesa, Calif.-based quick-service chain, used bold Latin flavors when it created the Shredded Beef Torta, a limited-time menu offering of hand-shredded beef, avocado and pico de gallo on a fresh bolillo roll.

Fun, new menu ideas like these often rely on mainstay beef cuts such as Top Sirloin, Top Loin and Ribeye portioned into appetizers, bowls, small plates, side dishes, sandwiches, wraps and burritos. Menuing shareable, portable and hand-held items allows operators to follow trends that millennials enjoy taking part in, such as customization, snacking, takeout food and smaller, healthier meals.

The flavor, tenderness and versatility of Ribeye helped propel the cut to a sales increase of 3 million pounds in 2013. Operators can easily cut it into tasty and versatile petite roasts, filets and cap steaks that can be roasted or grilled, sliced and fanned out on the plate or used to headline noodle or rice bowls, sandwiches and salads. A little goes a long way to add succulent flavor and menu prestige.

Another favorite of beef lovers is the Top Loin. The best-selling Top Loin Steak is more commonly known as the Strip Steak, or the New York Strip or Kansas City Strip for regional appeal. This sub-primal also breaks down easily into the Strip Petite Roast which is perfectly portioned for carving, sandwiches, salads and ethnic dishes. Cutting the Strip Petite Roast crosswise into 1- to 2-inch portions creates the Strip Filet, a round, right-sized steak with a look similar to the higher-priced Tenderloin Steak, or Filet Mignon.

Customers also clamor for the tender, juicy Top Sirloin. One of its easy derivatives is the Coulotte Steak, well-marbled and good for everything, from Latin fare to steak-and-shrimp combos and breakfast steaks.

“Top Sirloin is one hard-working cut,” say Chef Tim Soufan, an R&D consultant. “If you buy a whole Top Sirloin, you can cut great steaks from the center and use the rest to add high-end sirloin appeal to everything from steak tip appetizers to fried steak fingers and shepherd’s pie.”

While the flavorful and satisfying experience of eating beef is likely the major attraction for millennials, beef also has health and wellness appeal, particularly as a whole food that delivers an excellent source of high-quality protein. With more than half of adults saying they want more protein in their diets, according to recent research by the NPD Group, operators have another convincing reason to make beef the cornerstone of their menus.

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