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Cooking Commodities: More Brands Buying Whole Ingredients


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Laszlo Ilyes

Everyone is looking for fresh food these days, even McDonald’s, which grew to massive scale with extremely consistent and highly processed menu items is rolling out fresh burgers. Wendy’s is quick to point out that they’ve been doing it forever. 

No matter where, fresh has become a big draw for consumers looking for something healthier, or at least better tasting. 

Some brands, however, go even further than fresh, using whole ingredients right from the farm, fishery or field. 

B. Good cofounder and CEO Anthony Ackil said it’s a simple equation. 

“When you buy whole ingredients, it’s always cheaper,” said Ackill during the 2018 Franchise Times Finance And Growth Conference. 

He said there are some tricks to using whole ingredients, the labor has to be fairly simple and because whole ingredients are generally huge portions they need to fit in with the concept in one of two key ways. 

“You have to simplify the supply chain so they’re used multiple times or they’re a huge product for you,” said Ackil. 

That requires a bit of menu engineering and watching the data to see what people are liking and where commodity-size ingredients can fit in. 

At Slapfish, a seafood-focused fast-casual concept that puts food sourcing transparency front and center, whole ingredients have a lot of benefits.

“Whole fish are much better because we can get a good yield out of tit and get a better price per pound and use the excess for stocks and sauces,” said founder and CEO Andrew Gruel. 

But they require some special skills, which is why the concept uses a mix of processed seafood and whole, commodity ingredients. For locations with operators or cooks with a chef background, it means operational efficiency. He said unlike pre-packaged salmon, for instance, slicing from the whole fish into thin steaks means you can hit the five- to seven-minute ticket times they seek without using par cooking that can lead to a rubbery or dry texture. 

The Shuckin’ Shack Oyster Bar, of course, can’t get around commodity ingredients as Oysters simply can’t be frozen or processed for the classic half-shell presentation. The brand also uses a mix of canned seafood and “fresh as can be” oysters at the brand’s 13 locations, said CEO Jonathan Weathington. 

Like Slapfish, he said buying in commodity size purchases means using the shrimp and crab multiple ways across the menu. And to keep waste low, he aims for a just-right supply chain approach.

“You want to be cutting it close,” said Weathington. “You don’t want to be sitting on a huge stock of product.” 

He partners with a supply chain management company to do the heavy lifting on orders, but it still takes close attention to commodity costs. He said they try to time big shrimp purchases in June or July when prices are fairly low. But for the namesake product, it’s all about water temperature. 

“You have to be really hands on a far as oysters go, it’s all about water temperature,” said Weathington. 

Ultimately, it’s worth the headaches and the weekly commodity calls with his suppliers to get the ideal oysters for the 13 locations. 

“We quantify that by customer retention, our food is better,” said Weathington. “Our customers re fiercely loyal.”
Great Harvest is one of the few restaurant brands that have been using whole ingredients for a long time. What president and CMO Erik Keshin calls “bread heaven” has been using whole grains since 1976, not the fad grains like quinoa, but raw wheat that is ground at the locations every day. 

“All the wheat comes from Montana’s Golden Triangle,” said Keshin. 

The grain is ground and then baked at the company hubs where it’s sold and delivered to the smaller locations that don’t have bread ovens or milling equipment. 

He said while it’s a specialized way to operate a bakery café chain, the bread speaks for itself. And that’s the key for everyone using whole, commodity ingredients. It’s the next step above fresh and scratch, and for those that can make it work have some great food and a deep moat of differentiation.

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Tom KaiserTom Kaiser is senior editor of Franchise Times. He can be reached at 612.767.3209, or send story ideas to tkaiser@franchisetimes.com.
 
Beth EwenBeth Ewen is editor-in-chief of Franchise Times. She can be reached at 612.767.3212, or send story ideas to bewen@franchisetimes.com.
 
Nicholas UptonNicholas Upton is restaurants editor at Franchise Times. He can be reached at 612.767.3226, or send story ideas to nupton@franchisetimes.com.
 
Laura MichaelsLaura Michaels is managing editor of Franchise Times. She can be reached at 612.767.3210, or send story ideas to lmichaels@franchisetimes.com.
 
Mary Jo LarsonMary Jo Larson is the publisher of Franchise Times Magazine and the Restaurant Finance Monitor.  You can find her on Twitter at
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