Restaurant Show Recap

Specialty meats, smoked ingredients, sustainability among highlights of 2011 NRA Show

Abbie Westra, Director, Editorial, CSP

CHICAGO -- The National Restaurant Association (NRA) Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show wrapped up its 92nd annual show last week--an event that reflected a relatively upbeat industry. Despite current commodity crises and snail's-pace consumer spending recovery, showgoers arrived at McCormick Place in Chicago more ready to do business than in recent memory.

On the show floor, booths reflected trends for global flavors, equipment efficiency and a notable lack of gluten.

Flavor and menu trends included an increase in specialty meats from hams to sausages as well as regional [image-nocss] Latin and Middle Eastern ingredients. Smoked ingredients continue to grow in trendiness, including a smoked olive oil from The Smoked Olive. The vegan presence grew this year, too, including a vegan "seafood" product from Sophie's Kitchen made from Japanese yams.

Gluten-free products were scattered throughout the show, including booths from well-known retail brands expanding into foodservice. Udi's Gluten Free Foods was exhibiting, showing off its sandwich breads, hamburger and hot dog buns and sweets.

On the beverage front, specialty teas and other ready-to-drink (RTD) products with added nutrients and health benefits continue to grow in category size. Coca-Cola Co. announced a partnership with ValidFill to create RFID-enabled cups, meant for lodging, theme parks and other places that might have daylong free refills. Coca-Cola's new Freestyle machine will be able to communicate with reusable, RFID-enabled cups to determine if the customer gets a free refill. This allows for shorter crew-serve lines and less free-refill abuse.

The technology pavilion at the NRA Show grows year after year, particularly as more web-based services enter the fold (clogging the convention center's WiFi along the way). Hot Schedules, an online scheduling tool for management and hourly employees to update and check schedules, swap shifts and more, is positioning itself as more of a labor management assistant. Algorithms are used to forecast staffing needs based on weather, historical sales and more.

The Food Truck Spot on the show floor grew from last year, along with the number of companies serving operators interested in the mobile option--from marketing assistance to the truck itself. At least four trucks were driven onto the show floor, including one equipped with a wood-burning pizza oven.

At the Manitowoc booth a scaled-down mobile option was on display. Delfield's Go Cart completely closes for outdoor storage. A sink, knockouts for power and space for either a cooler, freezer or hot-food holder make for a flexible format. Casters, a guttering system and a central power board increase the convenience of the cart.

Sustainability was another ongoing theme, one featured in a recycling study released at the show by the NRA and Georgia-Pacific Professional. Among the findings: 65% of consumers prefer to patronize operations with recycling programs. 85% of consumers are willing to sort recyclables into bins at quick-service restaurants, and 51% are willing to pay a little more at establishments that recycle. 18% of restaurant operators said their cost of doing business increased as a result of using recycled materials; 4% said their cost of doing business decreased, and 73% said it stayed about the same. Meanwhile, 57% of consumers said they expect recycled products to be less expensive to purchase than conventional products.

Next year's NRA Show will be held May 19-22 at McCormick Place in Chicago.

Abbie Westra, CSP/Winsight By Abbie Westra, Director, Editorial, CSP
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