A spicy deep-fried chicken meal that came with a mini bottle of Tabasco sauce and a tempura shrimp dish coated in honey are a few of dishes that will be recognized Saturday as some of the best new product launches last year.
The 13th annual MenuMasters competition, hosted by the National Restaurant Association in the US, singles out restaurateurs who demonstrate industry-building innovations with "breakthrough" ideas.
Popeyes's Louisiana Kitchen's Wicked Chicken, for example, was the most successful product launch in the company's history and won in the category of Best Limited-Time Offer.
Unlike their regular chicken tenders, Wicked Chicken was sliced thinner, battered, and then deep-fried in less than two minutes, making it one of the fastest fast-food items on their menu. In the US, the new item was served with a biscuit, Cajun fries and a mini bottle of Tabasco sauce for $3.99.
The product was launched internationally in 27 countries last summer for the month of June, but proved to be so popular some franchises continued to carry it into July. The product catered especially well to customers in Asia and Latin America, where palates are spicier.
A honey-glazed walnut shrimp dish launched by Chinese fast-casual chain Panda Express also won an award for the Best New Menu Item. The tempura shrimp wok-tossed in a honey sauce and topped with glazed walnuts was likewise the chain's most successful new entrée launch in history.
Subway's breakfast menu was awarded the Best Healthful Innovations title for its new egg-white version of their omelet-egg and their Egg Muffin Melts, smaller more portable versions of their 6-inch flatbread omelet sandwiches.
Panera Bread's Scott Davis, who's been spearheading the bakery's steady rise through the fast-casual industry with innovative ideas, was also given the Chef/Innovator award.
On May 16, for example, a Clayton, Missouri location was converted into a community kitchen which will operate on a 'pay-what-you-can basis.' There are no cash registers or prices and customers operate on a goodwill basis. Proceeds go towards Panera Cares, the company's charitable foundation. They have two more such locations in Michigan and Portland, Oregon, and plan to open a new one every three months.
Award winners were announced last month and will be honored at a MenuMasters gala dinner on Saturday, May 21 in Chicago.