In a monthly series, menu trend analyst Nancy Kruse and NRN senior food editor Bret Thorn debate current trends in the restaurant industry. For this installment, they discuss consumers’ recent enthusiasm for New York pastry
A puzzling phenomenon
NRN senior food editor Bret Thorn wonders what’s behind the latest food phenomenon.
Nancy, do you watch the hit vampire-themed HBO series True Blood? The show touches on some interesting and highly relevant food themes from time to time.
Three years ago a vampire king’s boyfriend was serving a sort of heirloom blood, voluntarily provided by a human who had been eating nothing but tangerines for a week — a clever reference both to premium products and to the growing interest in understanding the story behind our food.
In the series premiere this past Sunday, Lafayette, the chef at apparently the only restaurant in town asks a grief-stricken young werewolf girl, “You want something deep fried, dipped in sugar, and fried all over again?”
That reminded me of the latest food phenomenon, the Cronut.
New York City-based pastry chef Dominique Ansel developed and trademarked the doughnut-croissant hybrid at his eponymous SoHo bakery last month, where he sells them for $5 apiece, and the food-hipster world lost what it has of a collective mind.
Two-hour lines almost instantly became the norm, and now there’s talk of people showing up to wait outside Dominique Ansel Bakery at 5 a.m., even though it doesn’t open until 8 a.m. A six-Cronut-per-person limit was reduced to three and then two as reports of scalping the desserts spread (This story in Time reports the pastries selling for $100 or more on the black market).
There’s talk of pâtissiers as far away as Australia making knock-off versions of the treat, and Pillsbury has come up with a mass-market do-it-yourself version of it.
My colleagues at Restaurant Hospitality recommended, fairly enough, that its readers jump on this trend while the jumpin’s good.
But Nancy, it’s a doughnut. Or possibly more like a cream-filled turnover — I’m not sure really, because it’s beneath my dignity to stand in line for two hours for a pastry.
What do you think is behind all of this hoopla, and how do you think our readers might be able to capitalize on it?
Consumers love menu mash-ups
The following is Kruse Company president Nancy Kruse’s response to Bret Thorn’s thoughts on Cronuts.
One of the reasons I enjoy our monthly back-and-forth, Bret, is that I frequently learn something new. In this case, it’s that you’re a true-blue True Blood fan. While I’m not a devotee, I’m very familiar with the series and the novels that spawned it because of their impact on pop culture and all their attendant media coverage.
Similarly, though I’ve never tried a Cronut, it’s been pretty hard to miss the hype and hysteria that have surrounded it. As I read about the product and its rapidly multiplying progeny, though, I can’t help but get a sense of déjà vu.
From my perspective, the Cronut is actually the latest gastronomic novelty act to have hit a mother lode of fevered press coverage and frantic foodie interest. Many of these attention grabbers have been on the savory side, like KFC’s Double Down, which replaced the sandwich bun with two chicken breasts a few years back, or Dunkin’ Donuts’ more recent Glazed Donut Breakfast Sandwich, which sticks bacon and eggs between two slices of glazed doughnut — a cheeky combination of sweet, salty and savory.
In fact, menu mash-ups like these have been appearing just about everywhere:
• There’s a direct line from any number of new-age doughnut meisters to the Cronut. In Chicago, for example, Glazed and Infused fills a Bismark with crème brûlée, an enormous hit with patrons, while Doughnut Vault has just launched a Cookies & Cream Doughnut. Both are great illustrations of creative culinary cross-referencing.
• Sunny Street Cafes, a 13-unit chain based in Columbus, Ohio, recently introduced a promotional menu featuring Tres Leches French Toast, a fun takeoff that puts the luscious Latin American dessert on the breakfast plate.
• Beverages are on board, too. Red Robin’s Samuel Adams Oktoberfest Milkshake was a beer-based shake that married two terrific brands and provided a marketing hat trick of competitive differentiation, beverage creativity and traffic driver.
These examples suggest a few things. First, chef Ansel is really the latest pastry provocateur to have turned an innovative idea into a home run. Second, by the time our readers read this, much of the hubbub around the Cronut may have quieted down, but consumer appetite for the new and outrageous will remain constant. It doubtless will be fed by summertime state-fair concessioners who have unleashed memorable noshes like deep-fried Coca-Cola on an unsuspecting populace.
And third, Bret, I want to talk to you about your television viewing habits, but perhaps we can save that discussion for another time. I’m still thinking about the potential commercialization of tangerine-flavored blood.
Contact Bret Thorn at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary
Nancy Kruse, president of the Kruse Company, is a menu trends analyst based in Atlanta and a regular contributor to Nation’s Restaurant News. E-mail her at email@example.com.