With the arrival of fall, consumers clamor for seasonal favorites, highly craveable comfort food and satisfying chicken dishes. As one of America’s favorite proteins, chicken is a staple across segments and day parts. With chicken being so popular and easily accessible, foodservice operators seek to stand out with quality ingredients, unique flavors, seasonal spins and signature sauces.

Given its versatility and its availability in a variety of foodservice-ready applications, this popular protein will be featured prominently on retail foodservice menus this fall, in the form of options like whole rotisserie chickens; par-fried strips and tenders; boneless and bone-in wings; popcorn chicken and more. Pairing seasonal favorites with chicken offerings will help ensure retail success stories.

Fall into chicken

For both chicken and turkey, consumers’ interest in both health and indulgence are influencing menu development, according to Technomic’s 2019 Center of the Plate: Poultry Consumer Trend Report. With fall’s back-to-school mindset of needing wholesome family meals and classic comfort food cravings, retailers can satisfy a range of needs with options such as grilled chicken, rotisserie chicken, and fried options.

The fastest growing ingredients paired with chicken entrees also reflect the demand for both indulgence and health. They run the gamut from grape tomatoes, lime, kale, tomato sauce and poblano to bourbon, potato chips, and mac & cheese. No matter what consumers are looking for, they should be able to find something tasty in the prepared foods department.

Americans are not only eating more chicken, they also purchase it from foodservice establishments frequently—and that’s not expected to change anytime soon. According to Technomic’s 2019 Center of the Plate: Poultry Consumer Trend Report, one-third of consumers (33%) say they expect to eat more chicken over the next year—and that’s on top of the 76% of consumers who say they typically purchase chicken at least once a month from a foodservice location.

A majority of consumers (62%) eat fried chicken at least occasionally, and 28% report eating more fried chicken with spicy flavors now than two years ago, according to Technomic’s 2019 Center of the Plate: Poultry Consumer Trend Report. When it comes to the fastest-growing flavors paired with fried chicken, maple tops the list, with sriracha, buttermilk, pineapple and gorgonzola also on trend.

Seasonal sides and ingredients

Consumers can’t survive on chicken alone, of course. When considering complementary flavors and sides that will consumers seek, a lot of the flavors and ingredients are somewhat predictable. According to Technomic’s Fall 2019 Season’s Eatings report, mainstay flavors for fall include apple, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, dates, mushroom, pecan, pumpkin and squash.

Brussels sprouts are increasingly popular, both when braised similarly to collard greens as well as when served raw in salads. New mushroom and innovative squash varieties are also popping up, and roasted cauliflower served with bold and ethnic flavor infusions will continue to trend, according to Season’s Eatings.

The report also predicts that sunchokes, also known as Jerusalem artichokes, and honeynut squash, a more flavorful alternative to butternut squash, will emerge as newer ingredients and sides this fall. These ingredients all pair perfectly with a variety of chicken preparations.

Globally inspired

In general, consumers are demanding more ethnic options at foodservice, and Asian and Latin American cuisines tend to be more familiar to customers. With these flavors already mainstream, look for what’s next, including more regional cuisines such as flavors from the Philippines or Brazil. Technomic’s 2019 Center of the Plate: Poultry Consumer Trend Report finds that 44% of consumers say that they would be interested in trying chicken entrees made with new or unique flavors or sauces, so offering these newer and more original ethnic flavors could pique their interest.

Other growing flavors and ingredients chicken dishes include capers, basil, Thai flavors, orange, ginger, rosemary, roasted garlic, Japanese flavors, sesame, almond and lemon herb—incorporate these in both chicken dishes as well as sides to create cohesive, craveable meals.

Consumers look to seasonal flavors and ingredients when making their food purchases. With poultry being highly adaptable to flavors, seasonings and sauces, there are seemingly endless opportunities for new menu offerings both this fall and beyond.

To continue attracting consumers to grocery foodservice, it’s essential to update and innovate foodservice offerings. By continually adding more foods consumers want, grocery can remain competitive with local restaurants. George’s insight driven R&D team can help design a program to drive sales and customer satisfaction. With experience in both the retail and foodservice, George’s team can bring restaurant trends and flavors to the deli counter and hot case.