Restaurants conjure up seasonal fare in US

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Spiced Sugar Cookie Blast

Seasonal fare: Sonic's Holiday Spiced Sugar Cookie Blast

Consumers are in the mood to celebrate and US restaurant chains are responding by spicing up their menus with autumnal and winter offerings, according to the latest research from Mintel.

In 2009, food and beverage menu items featuring familiar autumnal ingredients and flavors, such as pumpkin, squash, apple, cinnamon, caramel and hazelnut increased by 13% between the summer and autumn, Mintel reports.

“It’s not uncommon for restaurant operators to update their menus to reflect fresh ingredients of each season,” said Kathy Hayden, foodservice analyst at Mintel. “The falling temperatures signal to restaurant-goers it’s time for a change to their palates. Words like harvest and spiced are other menu cues that convey fall and winter flavours.”

Pumpkin is an especially popular autumnal ingredient in the US, as its incidence on menus increased by 161% from summer to autumn in 2009. During the same timeframe, squash dishes increased by 150% and menu items flavoured with cinnamon and hazelnut increased by nearly 5%, respectively.

Cider also shows seasonal increases. Warm cider drinks have appeared in many of the major coffee chains, Mintel reports.
Tim Hortons sells cider doughnuts and cider vinaigrettes bring autumnal touches to salads. Some of the latest seasonal limited-time-offers showing up on menus in the US this year include: Culver’s eggnog shake, Denny’s gingerbread french toast, Panera Bread’s mint crinkle cookie and Sonic’s holiday spiced sugar cookie blast.

“Last week, Mintel Menu Insights released its 2011 food and menu trends, but the seasonality trend remains constant,” said Hayden. “For restaurants, seasonal dishes are a natural way to draw interest, but the challenge is not to simply add items to the menu, but to add items that resonate with your current customers and have enough seasonal interest to draw potential guests.”