IT’S fair to say Italian cuisine is well-established in the Scottish dining scene, with many on-trade operators seeking to capitalise on the continued strong demand. But what has made it such a perennially popular choice amongst consumers?
It can be attributed to social history and the simplicity of the food itself, according to Niall Deveney of Dunns Food & Drink.
“It is said that there are tens of thousands of people of Italian descent across Scotland and over time they have come to have influenced almost every aspect of Scottish life, including food,” Deveney told SLTN.
“However, the actual concept of Italian food is also part of the success.
“The style is often associated with simplicity, both for eating and serving, and many dishes have become ‘home comforts’ over time.”
Therefore, Italian food continues to prove lucrative for operators, reckons Steve Morris of Jestic Foodservice Equipment. Quoting a Mintel report, Morris said 45% of customers regularly visit pizza, pasta and Italian food outlets, making the sector “one of the most widely used in the industry”.
“From this, it’s clear to see that Italian food offers licensees a significant opportunity when it comes to sales, not least because of the premium price points and low production costs this type of cuisine can command,” said Morris.
Echoing this view, Deveney of Dunns said there “is definitely a big sales opportunity to be had with Italian cuisine”.
“Various reputable studies have shown that the overwhelming majority of consumers enjoy eating Italian food,” he said.
“Meeting that demand is no hard task, either, as Italian cuisine is so straightforward to prepare – and offers great profitability.”
Echoing this view, Gordon Lauder, managing director of frozen food distributor Central Foods, reckons operators must stock the staples like pasta and pizza as they “are tasty, versatile and reasonably quick to prepare”.
But for those who want to make their pizza offering stand out, Lauder advised using interesting toppings.
“Unusual gourmet toppings on pizzas could be one way of refreshing a pizza offering, which could encourage customers to come back for repeated visits,” said Lauder.
While Deveney agreed that there “are plenty of old favourites out there”, including traditional pizzas, “it doesn’t just have to be about spaghetti and lasagne anymore”.
“Recent trends, across [various] cuisines, has seen a growth in popularity for small plate servings and filled pastas lend themselves well for something different, without having to be too ‘out there’,” said Deveney.
“Whatever the dish, the most important thing when it comes to an Italian offering is to use fresh, authentic ingredients wherever possible to provide true Italian flavours.”
For those specialising in Italian cuisine, this is especially important, said Deveney, adding that highlighting the provenance of the ingredients in dishes can help to attract custom.
“Increasingly, consumers want to know where their food has been sourced from and this can be turned into a selling point that adds value – and even justifies a price difference,” he said.
Reinforcing this stance, Scott Duncan of catering equipment firm Carpigiani UK said in order to deliver a “true, artisan gelato” it is “as important to ensure quality, consistency and flavour profile as it is to sell at the correct price”.
“Offering a mouth-watering selection of freshly-made gelato is a great way to exceed customers’ expectations, and will certainly help to highlight your establishment as one that uses premium quality, fresh ingredients – giving your pub menu a real point of difference,” said Duncan.
Gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan options should be another important consideration, according to Lauder of Central Foods.
He said operators ought to “highlight these [options] on menus and social media, using relevant hashtags to raise awareness amongst diners who have specific dietary requirements”.