Mediterranean Cuisine Gaining Favor

Mediterranean cuisine is more prevalent on menus across numerous foodservice segments, as customers become interested in ethnic dishes, more healthful cuisine and vegetarian foods, a report from market research firm Technomic Inc. finds.

"The increase in menu incidence we have tracked shows that these items are not just being added to Mediterranean concepts, but to the menus of national chains within virtually all segments and categories," said Mary Chapman, director of Chicago-based Technomic.

"We expect this to continue as awareness of the cuisine increases and as the trends feeding the growth continue to develop," she said.

The report found that:

• Six in 10 consumers surveyed said they would likely order a menu offering that featured Mediterranean ingredients and flavors.

• Mediterranean chain sales at restaurants that feature Greek, Spanish and Middle Eastern foods increased 1.7 percent to $362 million in 2010 from 2009. Twenty leading Mediterranean chains considered in the report finished 2010 with 430 total units, up from 423 in 2009.

• Restaurants are using more Mediterranean food items, such as falafel, hummus, chickpeas and Greek yogurt. Pita sandwiches and Greek entrée salads are appearing more frequently on menus.

• Mediterranean dishes include fish, herbs, vegetables and olive oil — ingredients consumers consider healthful. "Consumers seeking better-for-you fare also appreciate the cuisine's simple preparations, use of fresh ingredients and cooking methods that instill flavor without adding fats," Technomic said in a release.

Nick Vojnovic, a partner in the quick-service Greek concept Little Greek said he thinks Mediterranean cuisine "is getting ready to explode."

"People get burned out on the burrito, burger, pizza deal," he said. "We have high-quality food that is both healthy and delicious."

Vojnovic, who just opened a fifth Little Greek restaurant, is building three others and has five franchise agreements, he said.

Chapman of Technomic said consumers are seeking "better-for-you items that don't scream it's better for you."

Mediterranean cuisine includes "vegetables, olive oils and highly seasoned rather than fat-laden flavoring. It's a better-for-you dish without fat-free low-calorie," Chapman said. "It's about what it is and not what it's not."

— Alan Snel

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