Foodservice is in a real pickle these days. With the economy souring, fewer people are inclined to spend money on eating out. That's why the new Portions menu unveiled by Boston-based Au Bon Pain is so timely, since the affordably priced choices combine health and convenience.
The Portions menu is made up of 14 four-ounce dishes with prices ranging from $2.99 to $3.49. Each contains 200 calories or less, according to Ed Frechette, Au Bon Pain's senior vice president of marketing.
“There was an unmet need for not just small portions and healthy foods but for convenience,” he said. “One customer told a manager that she loved the asparagus with almonds but could never be bothered to make it at home. So she said she'll buy ours so she wouldn't have to make it at home.”
Portions joins other initiatives at the nearly 200-store chain. Au Bon Pain eliminated trans fats from all of its products late last year, and now uses all-natural chicken in its salads and sandwiches.
The changes have proved popular. In its first week after launching, Portions hit its projected target of 250 sales per cafe, according to Frechette. Three cafes sold an astonishing 800 during that time, he added.
The company's inspiration for the Portions program goes beyond health, to ethnic cuisines, like Spanish tapas that are small in size, but interesting and big in taste. The selection in Au Bon Pain units includes dishes such as hummus and cucumbers, Thai peanut chicken, and brie cheese and fruit. The higher-priced dishes are made with meat or chicken.
Au Bon Pain is one of several quick-service operators trying to cater to changing consumer priorities — and their budgets. In January, the Quiznos sandwich chain introduced a line of 200-calorie flatbreads called Sammies.