Fab Foods

Your family's favorite restaurant serves Blue Bunny ice cream, a fact the owners proudly promote on their menu, and on clever tabletop tents. It gives you warm fuzzies to think that the proprietor is so concerned with delivering quality that he's offering you the name brand.

Perhaps he is, but as SYSCO Food Services of Arizona's annual food service exhibition demonstrated recently, the gesture likely is also a way to increase profits. With prefab foods showing up more often in today's mainstream restaurants, large food companies are more creative in sealing relationships that can boost their bottom lines. They're offering rebates, pushing free, flashy merchandising material, printing marketing guides on how to step up sales, and in the case of Rich's prepared desserts and deli food, even providing food preparation and sales training for restaurant staff.

At the show, companies such as Tetley tea, Kraft and Hillshire Farms wooed Valley restaurant-industry professionals with tantalizing come-ons like "Let the Profits Flow" (Lyons prefab "gourmet" dessert toppings), "Raise Revenues With Self-Rising Crust" (Red Baron pizza), and "Serving SYSCO Cheese Appetizers Really Pays Off!"

Restaurant purchasing managers looking for an alternative to fresh-baked bread, for example, were offered a $6 rebate per case for Pillsbury frozen biscuits. Tetley introduced a new drawstring bag designed to extract every last drop (and penny). Minor's Signature Flavor Concentrates reminded us that "your expensive kitchen help could spend hours making (gravies and sauces) from scratch. With Minor's, just scoop (from the bucket) and go." And one fellow hawking frozen egg rolls demonstrated how they were sturdy enough to be cut up and splayed out to look like bigger portions than the more fragile homemade.

Blue Bunny actually is a fine dessert option, and at least your favorite restaurant is up-front about what's on the menu. But there is a real taste difference between fresh and fabricated food -- one bite of Frostline's awful new dry-mix soft serve (just add water) proves that. And we should know, before we're charged for breakfast, that a diner is cranking out Quick Finish precooked bacon instead of fresh.

Restaurants deserve to profit, of course. But if eateries boast when something is made from scratch, they should also tell us when it's not.

A Fine Opportunity: Looking for a first-class food and beverage director or wine pro? Get on the phone -- fast. Founding partner Michael Fine has left Sportsman's in a dispute with his brother Elliot and is looking to land a new gig in the Valley.


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