It’s About the Ingredients

There was a time when I used to cook a lot and I loved it. Now I eat out a lot…and love it. For some reason this spring, I’ve been cooking a lot, and the more I cook, the more I realize why I love restaurants.

It’s about the ingredients.

Research shows that consumers love restaurants because they can get food they can’t make themselves. Whether it’s gourmet burgers, multi-ingredient pizzas, perishable fresh foods or complex signature sauces, the secret ingredient is…well…the ingredients. The truly wonderful tastes from our best chefs come from the complexity, layering of flavors, freshness and quality of ingredients.

♦ In my last blog, I mentioned Corner Bakery’s catering research that revealed that consumers mistakenly believe that they can make their party offerings less expensively themselves. That’s because people don’t realize the number of ingredients needed or the waste of fresh product.
♦ As I look at that sad little brown-around-the-edges apple wedge left from a grilled chicken salad with apples and pecans I made a week ago, I understand consumer worry about waste. As I headed back to the grocery to pick up the clam juice for the Halibut with Kalamata, Tomatoes and Capers I made over the weekend, I understood the frustration of trying to have the right ingredients on hand. As I was chatting with a friend about ingredients yesterday she summed it up: “Who among us doesn’t have cream of tartar in our cupboards dating back to the ’80s?”

♦ Restaurateurs have a powerful opportunity in the “ingredients” game. Sourcing and using unique, fresh or difficult ingredients can set your brand apart. Consumers use ingredients as a measure of quality because they understand how tricky fresh or seasonal offerings can be.

♦ When I was with the Bravo Brio Restaurant Group, Bravo’s Chef Matt Harding brought in heirloom tomatoes and mozzarella di bufala for summer salad and bruschetta features. It was so wonderful I asked Chef Matt where I could find it so that I could duplicate it at home. His simple response was, “You can’t.” And that’s just the point.

♦ If you can’t make it at home, you have to go to the restaurant to get that great flavor. Talk about building brand loyalty.

♦ In my blog on burgers, I suggested that even burgers support this idea of the importance of ingredients: “Despite its apparent simplicity, you just can’t make a burger as well at home—even if you do happen to have all those unique ingredients and a perfect, fresh bun.”

♦ I was talking to someone a while ago who asked about Donato’s (a personal favorite) point of difference. To me their point of difference is great ingredients served “edge to edge.” The fact that they offer fresh mozzarella is indicative of their awareness of quality, but the nuanced offering of their new Pepperoni Duo with two different types of pepperoni (and three different cheeses) suggests that they “get it” when it comes to heightened awareness of ingredients.

♦ I had a client a number of years ago in Newport Beach called zpizza. The thing about zpizza is the founder’s passion about the ingredients. That passion became the centerpiece of their positioning. They manifest that passion in everything they do. I just visited their Web site, which even has a separate tab for “Ingredients.” The list is impressive, not only because of its length, but also because of its breadth—quality, uniqueness, health, freshness and finesse—truffle oil, shiitake mushrooms, roasted yams, caramelized onions, vegan cheese, gluten-free crust, organic tomato sauce. Quite simply, it’s about the ingredients.

♦ In the casual segment, California Pizza Kitchen has built a brand on multi-ethnic ingredients and the unique flavors they deliver.

Sensitivity to seasonal ingredients manifests both culinary competence and management focus.

As restaurateurs look for ways to stand out and drive brand loyalty, leveraging the power of your ingredients can be a powerful brand advantage.

Until next time, I’d love to hear your thoughts