Some Like It HOT
By Deborah Cassell
As summer comes to a close, temperatures will be dropping, but demand for hot snacks in restaurants and supermarkets is on the rise. What better way to enjoy the fall football season than with appetizers … including some ethnic-inspired eats?
For most of America, the summer of 2006 has been a beast, with its record-breaking temperatures and hellacious humidity. But, as former film star, pin-up girl and blond bombshell Marilyn Monroe proved, “Some Like It Hot.”
In fact, as fall approaches, more consumers are shopping for hot snacks, i.e. frozen appetizers, for use as hors d’oeuvres at dinner parties and finger food during football games. After all, the only thing that goes better with “da Bears” than da beer is da grub.
For tailergaters and backyard BBQ-ers, hot dogs and hamburgers are must-haves. But for those for whom grilling isn’t possible, there’s now another option. Kraft Food Inc., Northfield, Ill., whose Oscar Meyer brand is synonymous with the perfect frankfurter, has introduced Fast Franks. The individually wrapped hot dogs sitting in soft buns are ready to eat after just 35 seconds in the microwave. Fast Franks can be found in refrigerator cases nationwide.
Some of the most popular hot snacks on the market serve as a complement to both hot dogs and burgers, alike. For example, frozen appetizers from Alexia Foods, Inc., Brooklyn, N.Y., include everything from Mozzarella Stix to Mushroom Bites. Its newest products are Alexia Waffle Fries, Alexia Garlic Fries and Alexia Onion Rings.
The company also caters to fans of another American favorite: pizza. Alexia Pizza Snacks come in two varieties: Sweet Italian Sausage, Roasted Peppers and Parmesan and Pesto Chicken with Fresh Mozzarella.
Obviously, hot snacks go beyond basic — albeit tasty — French fries, mozzarella sticks, onion rings and pizza. The ethnic influence on today’s freezer case is visibly strong, from Asian-inspired egg and spring rolls to Mexican-made enchiladas and other spicy items.
For example, Dinuba, Calif.-based Ruiz Foods sells its Mexican snacks in supermarkets across the country. The company’s newest frozen product, El Monterey Grilled Quesadillas, pays homage to a popular appetizer found on menus at most restaurants, from mainstream chains to more ethnic eateries. And its El Monterey Flour Taquitos in Chicken & Cheese and Shredded Steak & Cheese varieties earned the American Culinary ChefsBest Best Taste Award for 2006.
The growth of these types of hot snacks can be attributed to freezer case sales, especially those in club stores such as Costco and Sam’s, which encourage Americans to purchase bigger, bulk quantities of everything from cookies and crackers to chicken strips and frozen meatballs.
But credit also goes to foodservice channels, for which appetizers are big business … and not just at restaurants such as the ubiquitous T.G.I. Friday’s, which has its own line of frozen food items. A few years ago, 7-Eleven stores nationwide got in on the hot snack act with its Go-Go Taquitos, another Ruiz Foods product.
Taquitos are “a craveable destination food,” says Mark Hannay, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Ruiz Foods. “Young people today think nothing of driving by a C-store and picking up two or three taquitos.” Ruiz has been working with customers to create unique new taquito flavors, such as nacho, spicy barbecue and even apple cinnamon. Current options include southwest chicken, steak fajita and even breakfast taquitos.
Ruiz isn’t the only manufacturer making frozen food items for breakfast. For instance, Nestle Prepared Foods Co., Englewood, Col., recently added morning-time flavors to its Hot Pockets and Lean Pockets brands. Hot Pockets’ new fluffy, hearty sized biscuits are filled with savory bacon or sausage, scrambled eggs and cheese with sauce, and are ready in just 2 minutes from the microwave. In addition, Lean Pockets features a ham, egg and cheese pastry that heats up in just 1 microwave minute.
The foodservice influence continues at Schwan’s Consumer Brands, Bloomington, Minn., which recently joined forces with Wolfgang Puck Worldwide, Inc., to create new items for the frozen food aisle.
“As the leader in the frozen food category, The Schwan Food Co. is an ideal partner for building the Wolfgang Puck brand in the frozen food aisle,” Puck said in a release. And Schwan’s certainly has cornered the market in this category. Its current brands include Red Baron, Freschetta, Tony’s pizzas, Asian Sensations snacks and appetizers and Larry’s potatoes.
There’s no doubt that a line of Wolfgang Puck-approved snacks will draw in the many consumers who are familiar with the culinary master. Puck’s restaurants in Vegas and around the country encourage patrons to expand their taste buds and try new things from menus featuring Asian, Mexican and Mexican fare. It’s no wonder today’s consumer is enjoying spicier and even exotic foods.
As Paris Hilton – another blond celebrity who’s compared herself to Marilyn – says, “That’s hot.”
From Chicken Strips to Chicken Dance
Forget the frou-frou fruit-and-cheese plate, the upper-crust crab cakes and that snobbish shrimp cocktail. At a recent wedding reception, waiters served guests such as myself an array of hot snacks, including jalapeño poppers, fried shrimp, chicken strips, mozzarella sticks and mini corn dogs … offering attendees at the open bar more than one way to get “fried.”