Right now, contract caterers and restaurants are having to make tough decisions when it comes to how they source ingredients and adapt their menus to mitigate soaring food inflation and an over-reliance on imported goods. Supplier issues and product shortages have made businesses more vulnerable with many having to rely more on local suppliers; in some cases increasing costs further.
In a sector that has faced its fair share of hardship over the last few years, hospitality businesses now face another challenge - the pressing need to pass price hikes onto their customers.
For chefs and catering teams, cost management can no longer be solved by reducing portion sizes alone; you also need to be smarter and more creative about how you are sourcing goods and also the cuts of meat and ingredients you are using in recipes.
Meat prices are continuing to rise as soaring production costs hit. Experts say that farmers have also found the cost of rearing livestock, processing meat and transportation bills rising by around 50%. According to recent figures from analyst firm Kantar, beef has increased in price by 12% over the past year alone, the cost of a fresh leg of lamb is up 11.9%, meanwhile steak is now 10.2% more expensive, forcing chefs to think outside of the box and look for cheaper alternatives when planning new recipes.
Celebrity Chef and National Trust Food Specialist, Brian Turner, recently told The Caterer: “By buying directly from tenant farmers, National Trust chefs and catering teams have access to meats in all sizes from whole carcasses to individual cuts.” Turner said, "Forgotten cuts such as hand and spring of pork, neck of lamb or beef shin and brisket require longer, slower cooking times but the results are well worth it."
In a recent survey commissioned by Zupa, lack of creativity and innovation was highlighted as a key challenge for the sector, driven by lack of time and lack of training, even though 65% of chefs say they want to invest more time in the creativity of their cooking and menus. As well as investing in the right technology to free up more time for culinary exploration, getting creative with cheaper cuts of meat is one way of elevating plate quality and driving profit even while food costs continue to escalate. But there are other options too.
Here are my 8 surefire ways of how chefs and catering teams can help mitigate the impacts of food inflation:
1. Plant-forward - Try cutting down the proportion of meat used in your dishes making them more ‘plant-forward’, while replacing some of the meat content with beans and pulses. Customers won’t notice there is less meat in the dish and if you use cheaper cuts of meat, they won’t lose out on flavour and texture either.
2. Pre-diced doesn’t cut it - Use more flavoursome cuts like chicken thighs instead of breast and instead of purchasing pre-diced or jointed chicken, buy a whole one. You can also use the carcass for making tasty stocks, soups and stews.
3. Keep track of demand - Don’t assume traditionally cheaper cuts of meat will always be the cheapest. Demand for chicken wings soared during the height of the pandemic as people stayed at home craving takeaways, this led to them doubling in price, prompting many chefs to ditch them for chicken thighs. Use technology like Caternet (Zupa’s P2P catering management system) to keep track of rapidly changing prices with both new and existing suppliers, control spending and buy more competitively with guaranteed best-priced goods.
4. Marinades and more - Get more creative with marinating and tenderising cheaper cuts of meat like flank and skirt. Take inspiration from people like Korean-born Australian chef, Aram Yun who sometimes uses the sweetness of fruits and peelings to marinate cheaper cuts of meat. Yun uses pears for marinating beef and apples for pork.
5. Elevate cheaper cuts - Try using cheaper cuts to be more creative with your recipes – such as using leftover beef shin shavings to make beef tartare. Also, platforms such as Caternet allow you to create exciting recipes using live product information fed by your suppliers, so you can cost, forecast and assess if dishes are financially viable as well as sharing them across your organisation.
6. Value options - While prices of lamb and beef are rocketing, other cheaper meats like pork can be a useful go to - pork cheeks are delicious braised in stock or sherry, while neck fillets are a better value option for steak.
7. Waste not - Offal from red meat and poultry is also enjoying growth in popularity, thanks to a number of innovative chefs across the country. When it comes to using different cuts of meat that might otherwise be discarded, cracking down on food waste can also be a driver of creativity in the kitchen. Using the right technology to keep on top of stock management is vital here, as it will not only save you time, but it will also give you complete visibility of the stock you have and in turn, help to reduce waste.
8. Seasonal gems - Purchase goods that are in season to make the most of lower prices and buy frozen produce when out of season. Much of the available frozen produce is very good, very nutritious – and usually much cheaper to buy.
Times are challenging to say the least, but over the coming months the most successful players in hospitality will be those who embrace technology, look at their cost base holistically, work closely with their supply chain, and really push chef creativity and innovation around cooking and menu planning to deliver tasty food as well as enhance business resilience.