Struggling with soaring food costs and cash-strapped customers, restaurants across the country are swapping expensive ingredients for cheaper fare and adding new dishes that won't break their bottom line.
Steakhouses are adding buffalo meat alongside filet mignon, pizza joints are trying new cheese products, and seafood spots are replacing pricier entrees with humbler dishes like catfish.
According to an Associated Press story on Page M2, the changes come as record oil prices and surging global demand for staples like rice, fish, poultry and wheat have pushed wholesale food prices up almost 8 percent in the last year, the biggest hike in three decades, according to the National Restaurant Association.
Food commodities prices have mostly come down from record highs reached earlier this year, but wholesale flour prices have still doubled in the last year, while egg prices have shot up 70 percent and cheese 25 percent.
"This is definitely an unprecedented period of wholesale food inflation. Operators must focus on cost, and one way is using different ingredients," said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of research at the 380,000-member National Restaurant Association.
The organization recently surveyed restaurant operators and found surging food costs ranked as their No. 2 concern, after the economy. A year ago, labor was their second-biggest worry.