CHICAGO — Consumers are less willing to order appetizers, soups and salads during tough economic times, but this could offer opportunities for meat and poultry processors who offer salad ingredients and appetizers. In order to justify spending on items from the left side of the menu, consumers want more value, says Darren Tristano, executive vice-president at foodservice consultancy, Technomic.

To drive cravings and create interest in appetizers, salads and soups, operators must innovate with unusual ingredients and preparation techniques that can’t easily be duplicated at home, he said, which encourages consumers to feel the experience is worth the extra cost.

Three new studies from Technomic’s Left Side of the Menu series detail these findings and more. The series includes the Appetizer Consumer Trend Report, the Salad Consumer Trend Report and the Soup Consumer Trend Report. Based on more than 4,500 consumer interviews and analysis of the menus of the top 250 chain restaurants, emerging chains and independent restaurants, the studies examine consumer attitudes, purchase behavior and price sensitivity, plus emerging trends in flavor, preparation and presentation.

The research indicates the consumption of appetizer-type entrees has dropped over the past two years. Also, a majority of full-service diners are unsatisfied with the variety of appetizers. Participants also expressed interest in sharing appetizers.