To Sup Beyond Sustenance

NRA Show trends reflect desire for interaction

Abbie Westra, Director, Editorial, CSP

Photo courtesy National Restaurant Association

CHICAGO -- Want to know why sales are down? Go to social media sites to hear what people are saying. Want to grow coffee sales? Develop marketing messages about the farms where you source your beans. Want repeat customers? Engage them with fun games on their smartphones.

The away-from-home food occasion--be it a quick snack or a complete meal--is no longer just a transaction. It’s an opportunity to connect with today’s consumer, who is hungry for an interactive experience.

This desire was evident across the show floor at the 93rd annual National Restaurant Association (NRA) Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show, held May 5-8 at McCormick Place in Chicago.

In the technology pavilion, scores of companies were offering ways for operators to connect to the consumer. Using Front Flip, a free mobile app, customers can scan a code when visiting a store to unlock a digital “scratchcard” that looks like a scratch-off lottery ticket. Customers rub the scratchcard on their phone to reveal if they won a prize, redeemable on the spot. Operators can also send special messages or offers directly to users.

Meanwhile, the food-truck trend continued strong this year, expanding to kiosks, such as Delfield’s GoCart, for added mobility and flexibility in terms of where you park.

Interaction occurs on the plate and in the cup, too. At the Coca-Cola booth, continuous lines of people waited to get a drink from a Freestyle, even though the machine has been at the show and in the market for some time now. Out in the market, the Freestyle is garnering double-digit increases in incidences, as consumers increasingly wish to customize their beverage experience.

Farmer Bros., led by new CEO Michael Keown, rolled out its new Artisan Collection of 14 “barista-approved” coffees (the company also operates a high-end coffee shop in Portland, Public Domain). Many of the coffees in the collection are certified with the Rainforest Alliance and Fair Trade USA, and some are certified organic. The goal is to provide the kind of high-end product traditionally left to the small roasters to craft. Keown told Fare Weekly he hopes it will help Farmer Bros. “take a leadership roll, which the small guys can’t do.”

It’s not just the consumers who are more interactive. Many equipment manufacturers, including Manitowoc and Hobart, are working on or rolling out smartphone and tablet apps for operators with complete information on equipment features, maintenance and energy efficiency.

Likewise, tech companies are shifting standard checklists to cloud-based solutions. ParTech showed off its SureCheck food safety monitoring and task management program, which includes a handheld device for store associates to go through checklists based on HAACP protocol that is sent directly management, ensuring the integrity of the data.

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