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Mediterranean Cuisine: Gaining Spotlight

Technomic recently reported that Mediterranean cuisine is increasingly becoming a consistent presence in restaurant menus in the U.S., brought about by the consumers’ mounting interest in ethnic food, vegetarian dishes and more healthful cuisine.

Increasing menu incidence

“The increase in the cuisines’ presence on restaurant menus are not only limited to dining places that have Mediterranean concepts, but to the menu offerings of almost all categories and segments of national chains as well,” said Technomic’s director Mary Chapman.

“We anticipate that this shall persist, as the consumers’ responsiveness to the cuisine continues to strengthen and the trends that feed the growth continue to expand,” she said.

Technomic’s other findings

● Mediterranean food is well-loved by many, with 6 out of 10 consumers indicating that they are likely to order a menu offering, featured in the restaurant’s elegant menus with leather menu covers, that features the flavors and ingredients which are characteristically associated with Mediterranean fare.

● The 2010 sales of Mediterranean chains—Spanish, Middle Eastern and Greek specialty restaurants—increased to $362 million, showing an augment of 1.7% from 2009’s sales performance. In terms of unit growth, popular Mediterranean chains finished 2010 with 43 units, an increase from last year’s 423.

● The menu incidence of Greek salad and pita sandwiches were also seen to be on an upward slope, and restaurants were found to use more hummus, falafel, Greek yogurt and chickpeas in their menus in superior menu covers, pointing out a potential trend.

● Mediterranean cooking heavily integrates vegetables, herbs, fish and olive oil in their dishes—ingredients that consumers deem as healthy. Diners who also look for better-for-you dishes recognize the value of the cuisine’s fresh ingredients, simple preparations and cooking techniques that infuse flavor to the food without including fats.

The flavors of the Mediterranean

Mediterranean cuisine is indeed distinguishable by its wide range of ingredients and its numerous regional variations. The different peoples of the Mediterranean region were known to have heavily influenced each other in terms of food and culture, and their way of cooking has evolved into a sharing of common principles and ingredients, heavily utilizing fish, lamb, goat, olives and olive oil, cheeses, pita bread, hummus and falafel in their dishes. The Mediterranean cuisine is basically divided into three culinary regions: the Eastern Mediterranean (Greece, Egypt, Palestine, Israel, Lebanon, Libya, Turkey and Syria), the North African (Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria), and the Southern European (France, Italy, Spain and Portugal).

It’s all about what it is

“We think that the Mediterranean cuisine is all set to explode,” said Nick Voinovic, a partner at Little Greek, a quick-service Greek restaurant. “Customers are now exhausted eating up the usual burger, burrito and pizza. We have an alternative offer to the people, both delicious and healthy.”

Voinovic has just finished opening his fifth Little Greek location, and is due to open another three more. He also has five pending franchise agreements.

Technomic’s Chapman said that the consumers are now on the lookout for better-for-you dishes that do not necessarily scream “this one’s better for you.” Mediterranean cuisine offers this, without promises of “low fat or low-calorie.” A Mediterranean dish simply presents what it is–not another promise of what it is not.