It’s not surprising that mainstream food chains try to update their menus and offer fresh flavors, but what is rather astonishing is how little they can rock the boat without spooking our fellow Americans. In “Wasabi to the People: Big Chains Evolve or Die,” the New York Times explores the delicate balance of finding “new” and “exotic” flavors without alienating devoted customers.

For instance, a Meyer lemon vinaigrette successfully infiltrated Panera Bread’s salad menu, and the Mojito—which had already worked its way into candles and soap—inspired an “Exotic New Flavor” of Wrigley’s Orbit gum. And the Atlanta Bread Company is successfully pushing a Cuban sandwich (something it’d never done before), but not all of its “innovative” new recipes have gotten as warm a reception.

Goat cheese, for instance, failed to impress customers when it landed in a salad last year on the menu at the Atlanta Bread Company chain of bakery restaurants, based in their namesake city. That surprised Chris Campagna, the vice president for marketing, who said his customers like to take risks. Those who tried the salad liked it, he said, but there were not enough orders to keep it on the menu.

For reals? I mean, I might be a New York City food snob myself, but even my suburban mom knows her way around a box of Chavrie. If goat cheese is too out-there for the average food-chain menu, what could be a future food trend? Pomegranate-glazed chicken at Bennigan’s, anyone?

See more articles