Ben E. Keith, a food distribution company serving locations in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and New Mexico, brought their regional food show back to the United Wireless Arena and Magouirk Conference Center Wednesday. Over 300 client accounts were expected to send representatives to the show to see the latest innovations in the food service industry. Sixty-three vendors set up displays of their wares and had their pencils sharpened to make food show deals.
"We had our show here last year and brought it back because Dodge City has such a great facility and the staff here has bent over backwards to make it work for us," said Bill Obrock, district sales manager for western Kansas.
The day-long show featured samplings of a wide variety of food products, demonstrations of food service equipment and tools, and seminars.
Chef Bud Andersen, from the west Texas division based in Amarillo, talked about hot trends in the business — hot or cold fried chicken, eggs, anything crunchy, corn on the cob, kale, and anything sour, pickled or served with vinegar.
"There are a lot of gimmicks out there — I've even been served a drink with smoked ice," he said.
Andersen believes in keeping it simple.
"It comes down to what goes on the plate and what you charge for it."
But Andersen had gloomy news about the beef business.
He quoted statistics published in the Los Angeles Times last August: beef output is expected to his a nine-year low in 2013, domestic herds are the smallest they've been since at least 1973 and probably back to the 1950s, and beef cattle prices will be up for the second year in a row because of low supplies.
This is bad news for food service businesses, many of whom have traditionally counted on beef main dishes to drive profits.
To prove his point, Andersen showed a slide itemizing the food cost for a typical steak dinner. The cost of the food on the plate came to $9.01. The plate sells for $22.00, leaving a gross profit of $13.98 and the cost per plate for food at 39 percent.
"That's a profit — but that's the good news," Andersen said.
"These are last year's numbers."
The wholesale cost of that steak has gone up 56 cents, making the food cost 41 percent — and that can spell disaster for a restaurant owner.
As a result, many managers are offering fewer beef dishes and more alternate options.
Andersen cited the Stoney River Legendary Steaks chain. Their current menu features seven steak choices, but nine seafood choices.
"Why? Because seafood is easier and more profitable to serve," Andersen said.
As beef options, Andersen suggested chicken — roaster, baked, fried; pork — chops, tenderloin; seafood, especially shrimp and lobster; bacon in a variety of smoked flavors; beef blends — a popular new choice is brisket blended with ground beef; and turkey, which has perceived health benefits and carries perceived value.
Page 2 of 2 - "After all, mom used it on Thanksgiving," Andersen said.
Andersen also predicted that pork products will experience a similar rise in prices due to the shortage of corn.
"Smart menu planners are looking at ways to increase flavor and quality," Andersen said.
A number of emerging trends could be beneficial to businesses struggling with rising costs.
"A lot of people are looking at old dishes with a new interpretation," Andersen said.
"We are at the casino last night and one of their buffet items was meat loaf — the king of comfort foods," he said.
"If you create a need for something people can't get anywhere but in your restaurant, if it's great, people will hear about it."