Cod: A message of consistency, value
As a purchaser of about 2 million pounds annually, Culver’s knows cod. The Prairie du Sac, Wis., QSR chain has featured battered and fried cod as a sandwich or a dinner since 1984, when the company transitioned from a supper club format to a frozen custard and burger stand, says Jim Doak, executive chef and director of menu development.
The company aimed to give customers the same Friday night fish fry experience they were used to, he says. In the first 10 years or so of the company, it purchased only Norwegian cod. But as the franchise-based restaurant group has grown — it now operates 443 restaurants in 19 states — it has broadened its purchasing to North Atlantic cod from three suppliers, says Doak. “But we still purchase only premium loin cuts” and do the battering and frying in house.
Cod makes a quality statement to diners, says Doak, and has the added benefit of being plentiful and versatile. Although Culver’s has primarily focused on fried cod for its sandwich and dinner, Doak says new recipes are in the works. Two new sandwiches are the cod reuben and Asian crispy cod. “And we’re also looking at other options, including non-fried ones,” he says.
The popularity of the Friday night fish fry has made the cod dinner the No. 1 choice in Culver’s dinner category, which also includes fried chicken and pot roast, says Doak. The traditional fish sandwich ranks at No. 8 among more than 40 options.
Doak says even with fluctuations in the biomass that impact price and availability, cod has remained a choice Culver’s relies on. And the ongoing focus on sustainability of the species is important to the chain as well, he says.
Cod is also the top-of-mind species at Fishery Products International, the foodservice division of High Liner Foods based in Danvers, Mass. “Sixty years ago we started as a sales and marketing group to sell cod from Newfoundland,” says Jim LaBelle, VP-marketing at FPI, “and it’s still a popular, nationally demanded whitefish.”