What does a flatbread-loving customer look like? A businesswoman who wants to eat healthier at the employee cafeteria? A Millenial chasing after the latest spicy world flavor profile? A high school senior who wants to choose their own toppings during a study period?
Answer: All of the above, and more! The flatbread’s image, a mix of healthy and trendy, is part of its broad appeal. That’s what Matt Mantini, CEC, director of product development for Sodexo North America, found while studying consumer insights as he worked on a new national flatbread promotion.
Research and Development. “We kept hearing that people are looking for healthier options,” Mantini says. And with whole grain and multigrain bread emerging as key trends parsed out by his development team, “I think we’re going to see an uptick in flatbreads. They’re lower in calories and lower in fat than say, a hot sandwich on a Pullman loaf. Plus, they can carry marinated vegetables, interesting spreads, different textures, tastes and quite a bit of ‘oomph.’”
Also, customers are “even more receptive to bold flavor profiles than in years past,” Mantini says, adding that when they look for flavors like Buffalo chicken or a Club sandwich, they’re also interested in that “creative twist” that flatbreads can make possible.
In a couple of months, the ‘A Taste of Summer’ promotion will roll out at thousands of retail locations of Sodexo accounts in the U.S. and Canada—including healthcare, college and B&I. The promotion includes super bold, fantastically fresh flatbreads like the Maple Mustard Chicken Flatbread.
This flatbread has a lot of complexity in flavor, Mantini says, with “the sweetness of the maple glaze, the vinegary bite of the mustard and the smoky/salty flavor of the bacon.”
Other flatbreads in the promotion include pumped up classics like a slow-cooked roast beef topping with caramelized red onions in brown sugar and vinegar with Havarti cheese. There’s an upscale version of the Club sandwich, too, with flaked cold smoked salmon that’s been rubbed with honey and Old Bay seasoning, topped with thinly sliced red onions and cucumbers.
Winning Over a ‘Meat and Potatoes’ Crowd
The build-your-own flatbread station at Bayer Healthcare’s employee dining room —meant to be a one-off monotony breaker—got such a great reaction, flatbreads are now featured every week.
“More and more people were coming up to us and sending emails asking when we’d have flatbreads again,” says Jeff Baroth, chef, Bayer Healthcare, Parkhurst Dining, Indianola, PA. “And this is a meat-and-potatoes crowd, too. But they love bold flavors, like Buffalo chicken sauce and also BBQ sauce.”
The Buffalo Chicken Flatbread has been a customer favorite (“People just love this one,” Baroth says), with its hand-breaded chicken fingers, house-made ranch dressing, Cheddar and feta cheese, kicky Buffalo sauce and crunchy thin-sliced carrots and celery on top.
Custom flatbreads are available too, set up as an array of choices next to the good old impinger oven: zucchini, roasted red peppers, spinach, pesto… “They can make it as healthy as they want it,” Baroth says.
Spotlight on Great Ingredients
Flatbreads are a great platform to show off the ingredients that chefs take pride in.
Fresh herbs, high-end cheeses, good olive oil, aged balsamic vinegar and quality meats can make a big impact.
“Just using a cheese like Havarti instead of your basic Cheddar can make a big difference,” Mantini says. “It has a different flavor and it can elevate the other ingredients.” This is also an opportunity to show off your relationship with local cheesemakers.
At Bayer Healthcare, beef is ground fresh in house, a real signature touch that customers appreciate. So naturally, a favorite protein to add to flatbreads is meatballs, making for a sort of meatball sub-inspired flatbread. And yes, just good old ground beef (ground in house, and a real
Throughout the Day(parts)
Flatbreads provide a great opportunity for onsite chefs and managers to mix things up when it comes to dayparts.
The flatbread station at Bayer Healthcare is flexible enough, that on days when there’s a lot of house-made hot or sweet sausage from breakfast, it can easily transition into a choose-your-own topping option.
“We found that on our college accounts, most of our customers don’t adhere to traditional schedules,” Mantini says. “Breakfast could be at noon, or it could be at midnight.”
Upscale, interesting breakfast offerings and extras like smoothies, espresso and cappuccino are all part of the breakfast-anytime trend. This creates the opportunity to introduce some breakfast-style flatbreads “with a twist.” One such breakfast-anytime flatbread is made up of eggwhites and grilled ratatouille on a whole-wheat flatbread, topped with basil and sea salt.
“The grilled tomatoes and eggplant really gives this a unique flavor for a breakfast item,” Mantini says.
Kids Customize at Pioneer Flats Station
Customization has turned out to be king at the new flatbread station located in the senior lounge area of Elyria High School, Elyria, OH.
While the Rathskeller is a seniors-only hangout, any student can order flatbreads from the Pioneer Flats station, which features an impinger oven and two employees ready to serve as many as 140 flatbreads over each day’s four lunch periods.
“I thought it would gradually catch on over a few weeks,” says Scott Teaman, general manager Sodexo/foodservice director, Elyria City Schools. “But they’ve loved it from the start.”
While composed flatbreads like the Chicken Cordon Blue are available, “pepperoni is by far the most popular,” Teaman says. But veggie and protein toppings and cool sauces like cinnamon chipotle oil and wasabi mayo have been getting popular, too.
Sure, part of the appeal of flatbreads is how easy it is to start with a prepared product, but making your own can add to the signature/artisan/handcrafted vibe. Flik Independent School Dining chefs Joseph Carratura of the Gilman School, Baltimore, MD; Eric Ashe of the Calvert School, Baltimore, MD; and Angel Aguilar of National Cathedral, Washington, DC, recently gathered for a culinary round table and came up with two easy-to-make flatbreads: rosemary and whole-wheat sun-dried tomato. Find the recipes for both at food-management.com.