By Mark Villata, Executive Director Of The U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council
Blueberries, once seen as “just another berry” that tastes great in muffins, have over the past six years been transformed in the eyes of restaurant operators to a new menu standard. Overall mentions of blueberries on 500 top chain restaurant menus have doubled, references to fresh blueberries have nearly tripled, and restaurants are using blueberries in more different types of dishes than ever before1.
What’s causing this striking shift? A number of factors, including the growing number of consumers who see blueberries as a little change they can make in pursuit of a healthy lifestyle and the expanding group of foodservice operators who discovered blueberries as a simple way to turn a commonplace dish into a great one.
The fact that blueberries show a stronger growth rate as far as overall mentions on 500 top chain menus than blackberries, raspberries and strawberries1 suggest greater appreciation of the dynamic combination of qualities they bring to the table: natural simplicity, nutritional benefits, great taste and amazing versatility.
Not Just For Muffins
While interest in classic items like blueberry muffins and pancakes hasn’t waned, today’s consumers want to eat blueberries in more adventurous ways; for example, cooked into meat dishes, sprinkled on salads, blended into salsas or smoothies. The chain restaurants surveyed are using blueberries in different types of dishes than ever before, with increased usage apparent across all restaurant segments and meal parts1. It seems each week, chefs and dietitians are bringing new blueberry items to restaurant menus.
Key areas of growth in the period 2007-2013 include non-alcoholic beverages and smoothies, where the incidence of blueberry mentions increased 93 percent; entrees and salads, where the incidence of blueberry mentions increased 66 percent; and dessert dishes, where the incidence of blueberry mentions increased 45 percent1.
The upward trend in the dessert category is consistent with the finding that 60 percent of consumers now say they choose fruit for dessert at least once a week — more people than those who regularly opt for cookies (51 percent) or ice cream (47 percent)2.
While fresh and frozen blueberries are still the forms used most frequently, more chefs and product developers are experimenting with dishes featuring dried, freeze-dried, pureed and powdered blueberries.
Riding The Smoothie Wave
As smoothie fever sweeps the nation, many chain restaurants are offering blueberry as an option and discovering the flavor is most popular with younger Gen-Y [or Millennial] customers. Menu incidence of blueberry mentions in smoothies increased 60 percent since 20071, with 54 percent of consumers overall3 and 63 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds saying they find blueberry an appealing smoothie flavor4.
The Blueberry Effect
There is no shortage of reasons to love blueberries, but consumers rank health, taste, and convenience as their favorite things about the fruit5.
And, for many consumers, the blueberry’s positive halo extends all the way to restaurants that serve them. When consumers see a blueberry item on a menu, 58 percent perceive it as healthier, 44 percent find it more appealing, 24 percent perceive the restaurant as offering healthy fare, and 20 percent are compelled to order that specific item5.
Among consumers and chain restaurants alike, interest in and usage of blueberries has never been greater. Blueberry marketers should capitalize on this trend by helping restaurants explore more unconventional ways to incorporate this dynamic fruit into their everyday offerings. Visit blueberrycouncil.org/foodservice for more information on blueberries in foodservice, restaurant-style recipes sourcing information and cooking tips.
About The U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council
The U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council represents blueberry growers and packers in North and South America who market their blueberries in the United States and work to promote the growth and well-being of the entire blueberry industry. The blueberry industry is committed to providing blueberries that are grown, harvested, packed and shipped in clean, safe environments.
1-Research was conducted by Technomic, Inc., in January 2014. Base: Jul-Dec 2013 – 8,953 items from 773 restaurant menus from the Top 500 Restaurants, Emerging and Independent Operators; Jul-Dec 2010 – 4,665 items from 548 restaurant menus from the Top 500 Restaurants, Emerging and Independent Operators; Jul-Dec 2007 – 3,158 items from 440 restaurant menus from the Top 500 Restaurants, Emerging and Independent Operators.
2-Base: 1,500 consumers aged 18+. Source: Technomic -The Dessert Consumer Trend Report (2013).
3-Base: 624 consumers aged 18+. Source: Technomic – The Flavor Consumer Trend Report (2013).
4-Base: 250 consumers aged 18+. Source: Technomic – The U.S. Beverage Consumer Trend Report (2012).
5-Research was conducted by Hebert Research on behalf of the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council in May 2013 among 3,765 nationally representative Americans ages 18 and over. Data was collected via a combination of online, mobile and telephone surveys. Respondents were categorized into a general population group of 1,797 primary shoppers and an oversample of 1,968 women ages of 25 – 44 who also identify themselves as primary shoppers.