Cutting Costs: What is the True Costs of Proteins?
Centre-of-plate proteins are some of the most expensive ingredients. Implementing strategies to lower food costs without sacrificing quality and presentation can help your bottom line while feeding creativity and inspiration in the kitchen. Selecting less expensive cuts, marinating with creative sauces, creating soups and stews, and choosing sides that complement well while providing exceptional value are just some of the ways to tame the food cost beast.
IT'S A NICKEL AND DIME BUSINESS. YOU MAKE DOLLARS BY ACCUMULATING NICKELS. IF YOU MAKE DOLLARS BY GRABBING DOLLARS, YOU WILL NEVER SURVIVE.
CONTRIBUTION TO MARGIN
Rather than deciding what proteins to use based solely on food cost percentage, consider contribution to margin by subtracting food cost from your selling price. “By working from a contribution to margin calculation, operators can more clearly see how customers might choose one item over another if the value isn’t strong enough on price point,” says James Keppy, national culinary chef, Maple Leaf Foods. “It also illustrates how paying attention to pricing can make the difference between making a sale or not, and to your overall sales and profit margin.”
“Do you go to a lower grade or a smaller portion?” Keppy asks. “Does it have to be a 10-ounce steak or could it be an eight-ounce? If you go to a smaller cut, then you can add protein with chick peas and lentil options. And by keeping your sides flexible, you add ability to respond to food cost pressures.”
FRESH vs FROZEN
If the product comes in fresh, the clock is ticking,” says Duane Ellard, Canada director, marketing and business development, Canada Beef. “If a case comes in frozen, you can take out a bag of three or six. Frozen helps address back end turns and improves capacity to forward buy or commit to your purveyor of choice. For some operators, fresh will always be their choice and they will market the differentiation that fresh brings.”
Remember that markets dictate price, and by understanding the fluctuations, operators can gain maximum pricing advantage. Supply and demand pushes steak prices up during grilling season; hips and chucks begin to rise in August based on future bookings for delivery in October. “Think like a stock broker – buy low, sell high,” Ellard recommends.
THE AAAs HAVE IT
“A well-aged AA program in my opinion will produce as higher value steak than from a lesser-aged AAA program,” Ellard says. “Proper aging is the key to a quality product. If you age AA and AAA beef the same, the AAA will offer a consistent, flavourful and juicy product.”
Using food cost % as a decision process when choosing menu items and sell prices has begun to move to determining the Contribution to Margin for each dish individually. The prices of ingredients have risen to a level that requires operators to focus on the money you get after the cost of food.
TEST FOR YIELD
Do your due diligence and carry out a proper yield test on your raw chicken breast to see cooking loss against a competitor, Keppy recommends. “The loss can be significant if you are buying an inexpensive frozen chicken breast. Protein is reduced by the amount of water that is added and that water is purged out leaving a smaller cooked product.”
LESSER CUTS CAN MEAN MORE PROFIT
Offering a skirt steak or top sirloin in place of tenderloin, or a chicken thigh instead of chicken breast can make a great meal with even more flavour, Keppy says. “It is the sign of a good cook who can prepare tougher cuts. Depending on your operation, a value-added product may be the best answer because of the staff savings, portioning and hold times that can balance off a raw product with labour, cook time and waste.”
CELEBRATE THE STORY
Canadian meats are among the best in the world. By proclaiming place of origin on menus, operators can build pride and customer loyalty. “Our product is recognized globally for its premium quality and taste,” Ellard says. “Market the story of your Canadian beef selection regardless of grade, cut or region. It’s a pretty powerful marketing approach.”
- Build a feature menu item. Try offering a mix grill with three smaller servings of protein like a three-ounce chicken breast, a small dinner sausage, and three-ounce piece of steak.
- Work your seasonings. A cheaper cut marinated and seasoned properly can show off your talents as much as a top cut.
Asian Mandalay Marinade
This marinade works great on cuts like flank or skirt steaks as the coarse grain allows the marinade to penetrate the meat and add flavour. This recipe will provide enough marinating for up to 5 lbs or 2.5 kg of raw product.
- 1 cup soy sauce
- 1 cup fresh lime juice
- 4 tbsp crunchy peanut butter
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
- 2 tbsp curry powder
- 2 tsp minced garlic
- 2 tbsp Sambal Oelek (Indonesian pepper sauce)
Combine ingredients. If using a flank steak, carefully create cross hatch cuts across the grain of both sides to help the marinade penetrate, pour the marinade over the steak, and refrigerate overnight. Before grilling, pat meat dry to ensure caramelization.