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Barbecue’s wide appeal: retail and restaurant trends

6 min read

Restaurant and Foodservice

(Photo: Flickr user _BRK4798)

If there’s any question how popular barbecue can be, just look to Franklin Barbecue, an Austin, Tx., restaurant that has garnered massive amounts of national and international praise just six years after opening. Their Texas-style Franklin brisket catapulted them to stardom, and now they regularly attract five hour-plus waits, even inspiring locals to dream up ways to make the line more bearable — a local teenager opened a business as a professional line stand-in, and another entrepreneur rents out lawn chairs. Earlier this year, owner Aaron Franklin even won a “Best Chef, Southwest” James Beard Award, the first pit master to receive the honor, according to Texas Monthly magazine’s TM BBQ, an online community of barbecue lovers.

Of course, the world of BBQ goes far beyond Franklin’s Texas-style ‘cue, with distinct styles from Memphis to Kansas City, Alabama to North Carolina, with barbecue flavor profiles that range from sweet and tangy to smoky and spicy. To understand how these styles and flavors appeal to consumers, Datassential’s latest MenuTrends Keynote Report dives deep into the latest barbecue insights, covering both grilled meats and barbecue-sauced dishes. And consumers truly love barbecue – more than one-third of consumers have eaten barbecue or barbecue-sauced foods within the past week, and only 4% of consumers say they never eat barbecue.

Not just for barbecue restaurants

While it may be easy to think of barbecue as a specialty offering at barbecue-centric restaurant chains or independent barbecue shacks, barbecue is actually a popular offering that has opportunities for nearly any operator, considering barbecue has wide appeal for more than 95% of Americans. And operators are listening – half of all restaurants include some type of barbecue item on the menu.

Some operators, like Smokey Bones, an Orlando-based bar and grill chain, have a full section of barbecue items like pulled pork and smoked St. Louis ribs, or TGI Friday’s, with its “Jack Daniel’s Grill” line of smoky grill items finished with a tangy Jack Daniels’ glaze. At Chicago-based steakhouse, Wildfire, barbecue makes an appearance in several parts of the menu, such as a BBQ-rubbed sweet potato side option, or a barbecued chicken entrée, broiled with a zesty barbecue sauce. Barbecue also fits in well with other popular food trends, such as ethnic or ethnic fusion menus. Kogi BBQ, a Korean/Mexican food truck in Los Angeles, made a name for itself with its Korean BBQ tacos.

McDonald’s launched its McRib LTO back in the early 1980s, with a “get it while it lasts” strategy that has made it one of the most successful recurring LTOs ever. Inc. magazine has even called the McRib the “master” of the limited-time-only promotion, evidenced by factors like the multiple “McRib Locator” or “Bring Back the McRib!!!” Facebook pages. Other national chains have also jumped on the barbecue wagon, utilizing on-trend pulled proteins – Subway recently began offering pulled pork to its line of sandwiches, and Wendy’s has added pulled pork cheeseburgers, sandwiches, and pulled pork-topped cheese fries. In Datassential’s previous MenuTrends Keynote Report, we covered the almighty burger, and found that barbecue burgers were the second most commonly offered burger on menus, second only to cheeseburgers.

Barbecue offers both at-home and away-from-home sales opportunities

What specific types of barbecue do consumers reach for the most? Our Keynote Report is packed full of insights on consumers’ most preferred barbecue proteins – consumers rank baby back ribs first – the side dishes consumers most want to eat with barbecue, and much, much more. Actually, for two out of three consumers, barbecue is very much an at-home food, with many consumers associating barbecue with gatherings and celebrations.

When preparing barbecue, half of at-home barbecue consumers reached for store-bought barbecue sauce as their go-to flavoring. To capitalize on the popularity of bottled sauces, restaurants such as Famous Dave’s or celebrity chefs like Guy Fieri have extended their brands through associated retail sauces. Even aforementioned Franklin Barbecue now offers its popular Texas style, espresso-based, and sweet vinegar sauces for sale online and at H-E-B, a major grocery store based in Texas.

And while the majority of consumer restaurant visits overall are to local or major chains, when it comes to satisfying a barbecue craving away from home, nearly two out of three consumers choose independent barbecue restaurants. With the wide appeal of barbecue, it may be worthwhile for major chains to consider offering a larger variety of authentic barbecue options.

Where will barbecue go next?

There are so many different aspects of barbecue, from regional styles of barbecue, each with its own unique twist, to the variety of proteins and other ingredients that can be used for barbecuing, as well as the endless ways in which operators can leverage consumers’ love of barbecue and related cuisines, and we cover them in Datassential’s MenuTrends Keynote Report. This Keynote Report also includes information and insights for Southern entrees (consumer interest for items such as fried chicken and gumbo) as well as classic Southern desserts (bread pudding, anyone?).

As with all of our Keynote Reports, you’ll also find a list of the trending ingredients at all stages of our Menu Adoption Cycle (MAC) to see what’s next in the world of barbecue. Other trending items you’ll see in our report include foods that haven’t traditionally been thought of as a barbecue ingredients or platforms, such as barbecued pizza and barbecued fish.

This is just a small slice of the information in our soon-to-be released report detailing more consumer behaviors, motivations and preferences on at-home and away-from-home barbecue and barbecue-sauced foods.

Maeve Webster is the senior director of Datassential, a supplier of trends, analysis and concept testing for the food industry. For more information about ordering the MenuTrends Keynote Barbecue Report, contact Brian Darr at [email protected].


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