A Superfood Side is Born
A year ago, iconic chicken restaurant Chick Fil A caused quite a stir by announcing it was discontinuing its cole slaw and replacing it with a healthier alternative: the Superfood Side. Stuffed with Broccolini®, kale, dried sour cherries, roasted nuts and tossed in a maple vinaigrette, the salad was developed by Atlanta-based chef and James Beard Award nominee, Ford Fry.
A couple thousand miles away from the launch hubbub happening at Chick Fil A’s headquarters in Atlanta, we here at Mann’s were having ourselves a celebration of our own. Whose Broccolini was in that Superfood Side, anticipated by Chick Fil A to use 20% of the total supply in the U.S.? OURS!
As most of you already know, Mann Packing was responsible for introducing Broccolini – a sweet, long-stemmed broccoli/Chinese kale hybrid – to the United States, and is its one and only U.S. grower and supplier. 20 years after its introduction, Broccolini is currently one of the fastest-growing vegetables on restaurant menus – up nearly 19 percent in the past year according to Technomic.
So just how did Mann’s Broccolini – the darling of big name chefs and headline maker in Harper’s, the New York Times and the Washington Post – end up on the menu at a fast food chain?
Back in late 2013, one of our regional sales managers, Larry Narwold, received a call from Chick Fil A. The chain had been buying our leaf products for about 10 years, but said they were looking for something other than lettuce. Conversations continued into 2014, culminating in an ideation session with the Chick Fil A test board at the restaurant’s headquarters in September, where we showed them multiple items, including Broccolini.
One of the members of the test board was Chef Fry, who was already a fan of the vegetable. “It’s really easy to cook with,” says the owner of 11 restaurants in Atlanta and Houston. “The stalks are more tender than regular broccoli.” Fry first began playing with the vegetable when trying to eat healthier by firing it on a wood grill, then topping it with a toasted garlic lemon vinaigrette.
Knowing that the goal of Chick Fil A was to create a healthy side dish, Fry – the first outside chef to partner with the chain on a new menu item – worked side by side with the CFA culinary team to incorporate ingredients that were unique to the industry. “We know that it can be challenging to eat healthy on the go, so we wanted to create something that customers will love eating that’s also nutritious,” he said.
Fortunately for Mann’s, Fry and the team chose Broccolini as one component of the new Superfood Side, and we received word in January 2015 that Chick Fil A would test it in multiple markets. The customer feedback came back resoundingly positive, and we worked closely with CFA throughout the year to prepare for the early 2016 launch, including adding acreage to our growing operations in order to accommodate the increase in demand and ensure that we would always be able to supply product.
Fast forward to today, as Chick Fil A’s Superfood Side celebrates its first birthday. The chain has been lauded by consumers and the media alike, with The Packer’s Amelia Freidline noting in a November 2016 article, “in a world full of salt and grease, a little more green on the menu is an epic win.”
We couldn’t agree more.
Broccolini® Superfood Side
This yummy side salad is a copycat recipe of Chick Fil A’s Superfood Side, which was introduced in early 2016 and features – all together now – Mann’s Broccolini®.
- 4 cups kale, ribs removed and loosely chopped
- Maple vinaigrette (recipe below)
- 1 bunch Broccolini®, cut into 2- to 3-inch pieces
- ½ cup dried cherries
- ½ cup roasted walnuts, almonds and pecans, roughly chopped
In a large salad bowl, dress the kale with the Maple Vinaigrette and allow it to sit for about 15 minutes to soften.
While the kale is resting, blanch the Broccolini in salted, boiling water for 2 minutes. Drain the Broccolini into a salted ice water bath to stop the cooking. Drain once again and set aside.
To serve, add the Broccolini, cherries and roasted nuts to the salad bowl. Toss well and season to taste with additional salt and pepper, if necessary.
- 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Whisk together all ingredients except the oil in a small mixing bowl. Add the oil slowly, in a stream, whisking the entire time. Season to taste with salt and pepper.