The combination of quality home-grown produce and low food inflation means the time is right for operators to trial new dishes and menu ideas, according to buying specialist Lynx Purchasing, which has published the summer edition of its Purchasing Market Forecast.

Managing director John Pinder said, “Inflation is at a historically low level, and as we move from spring into summer the availability of UK meat, seafood and fresh fruit and veg is generally very good, quality is high, and value for money is excellent.

“As the same time, there’s a strong consumer appetite for new flavours and innovative dishes. We are continuing to see new smokehouse and barbecue concepts rolling out, and this trend coincides with an upsurge in slow-cooked dishes and underused meat cuts such as brisket and pork shoulder appearing on menus.

“It’s not often these factors come along together, and so it’s a real opportunity for restaurants, pubs and hotels to refresh their menus. We’re not suggesting that operators drop their best sellers, but they should be speaking to suppliers about which produce is best value, and using specials boards and dish-of-the-day promotions to try new ideas.”

Suggestions for new menu approaches from Lynx include: Working with suppliers to identify good value cuts of beef and pork suitable for barbecue, smokehouse and slow-cooked dishes. With availability changing weekly, operators who can keep menus flexible to use different cuts will see most benefit.

Reduce reliance on the most popular fish species, such as cod and haddock, by offering ‘catch of the day’ seafood specials, using fish from British waters with hake, pollock, mackerel, gurnard, grey mullet, bream, South Coast sea bass, dabs, lemon sole, brill and plaice all expected to be in good supply.

Offer ‘seasonal British vegetables’ as a menu accompaniment, varied according to availability, quality and price. British cauliflower crops are forecast to be plentiful and so prices should be low all summer, while both new season British cabbages and courgettes will remain good value once home-grown supplies are available.

Customers looking for healthier options can be tempted with salad options such as British watercress, with both quality and price forecast to be excellent, and UK-grown baby leaf salads such as rocket and red chard, which will be outstanding quality.

Adding a note of caution, Pinder said: “The current benevolent market conditions won’t last forever. Even when inflation is low, caterers don’t always see the same deep discounts that consumers enjoy, and the weather will always throw us some surprises in terms of supply issues. By trying new ideas now, operators can offer customers the all-important variety they want. A broader range of dishes with proven appeal can make all the difference when conditions change and competition gets fiercer.”