Inescapable ingredients (Part 2): Keeping steak on the menu despite high beef prices

Nov. 19, 2015 | by Cherryh Cansler

Edtor's note: This is part 2 of a series exploring how chefs are using common ingredients to innovate menus. Click here to read part 1, which explores how and why potatoes are no longer known as only a base for French fries.

Although beef prices have been on the rise for the past few years, consumers won’t allow their beloved red meat to disappear from menus. In fact, demand for beef increased nearly 7 percent in 2014, and beef brought more sales for operators than any other protein, according to the Beef Checkoff. That strong demand drove 96 percent of foodservice operators to add more beef in 2014, which is on par with prior years despite higher prices.

"Quite simply — people love beef," said Meghan Pusey, senior director of integrated communications with National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, a contractor to the Beef Checkoff. "Beef has inherent value to consumers, and operators can rely on their consumers to continue to love and to order beef. Millennials particularly love beef."

Four in 10 millennials, who frequent restaurants more than any other age group, chose beef during their last restaurant visit, according to Beef Checkoff. Their love of beef has forced operators to use creative ways to keep it on the menu at a more affordable price point. Some operators, for example, are exploring cuts from chuck in order to fill the value gap between the super-popular ground beef and premium steak categories, Pusey said. Operators are also flexing the versatility of mainstay steaks, like rib eye or sirloin, by exploring new ways to portion and menu.

"The ranch steak was designed to fill in this value gap; the ranch steak is now one of the fastest-growing beef cuts in foodservice today, with volume increasing by 2 million pounds from 2013 to 2014," Pusey said, citing data from Technomic. "Hanger steaks also have seen a lot of success on menus. Some operators are using these mid-value cuts as a meal ingredient too — as opposed to the center of the plate item — to further stretch their value."

Nature's Grill, for example, is an independent fast casual concept in Brooklyn, New York that serves a 6-ounce, lean-cut sirloin with jasmine rice, onions, peppers and tangy steak sauce on plain flour tortilla or in a bowl. D’Angelo Grilled Sandwiches is serving a Korean BBQ beef sandwich, featuring freshly grilled sirloin topped with Korean BBQ sauce, fresh cilantro, creamy sriracha cole slaw and American cheese

"This is an effective approach to deliver the great steak experience guests look for when dining out, and help operators stretch profit margins while adding value and appeal to the menu," Pusey said.

She also credited Brinker, parent company of Chili's Grill & Bar and Maggiano's Little Italy, with getting the most out of its beef by utilizing the sirloin across its operations. 

"Chili's Grill & Bar serves the sirloin filet as a 6-ounce steak on its 'lighter choices' menu, while Maggiano's Little Italy takes the sirloin cap to serve in the peppercorn-crusted sirloin entrée," Pusey said. "Sirloin is all about versatility at a moderate price point — cut it into smaller, portioned-sized steaks or slice into cubes or strips to add sizzle-factor to everything from kabobs to small plates, bar items and sandwiches."

UFood Grill is another brand that uses sirloin, in several bowls, including a roast curry cauliflower bowl and brussel sprout and bacon bowl, with grilled sirloin as a protein topping option.

Rib eye is another cut of meat seeing growth, said Pusey. “When you menu rib eye, you add instant prestige to your menu. This tender, succulent cut is the most flavorful of all the subprimals. That's why it's universally loved and can command premium prices. The rib eye can be cut into various 'right-sized' steak and roast portions that you can menu across all day parts, from on-trend sandwiches to profit-building small plates with big, global flavors."

Sammy's Pastrami & Burgers, for example, a fast casual concept in Las Vegas, menus its chipotle steak burger, topped with chipotle-braised rib eye, grilled onion, provolone, cajun steak sauce and a fried egg. Kamin Thai Fusion Cuisine in Los Angeles serves a red curry rib eye steak, with charbroiled rib eye steak topped with sautéed haricot vert and red curry sauce, served over coconut rice.

Although Pusey admits beef prices have been high, she said the USDA's cattle inventory reported America's farmers and ranchers are responding to consumer's strong demand for steaks and burgers and are rebuilding their herds.

"This is good news for longer term beef supply, therefore wholesale beef prices will soften in 2016,"  she said.

Stay tuned for part 3 of the series as it will explore the innovative ways chefs are using eggs.

Topics: Food Cost Management, Trends / Statistics

Cherryh Cansler
Before joining Networld Media Group as director of Editorial, where she oversees Networld Media Group's nine B2B publications, Cherryh Cansler served as Content Specialist at Barkley ad agency in Kansas City. Throughout her 17-year career as a journalist, she's written about a variety of topics, ranging from the restaurant industry and technology to health and fitness. Her byline has appeared in a number of newspapers, magazines and websites, including Forbes, The Kansas City Star and American Fitness magazine. She also serves as the managing editor for wwwView Cherryh Cansler's profile on LinkedIn

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