Yours For the Taking

Ten great ideas from the 2012 NRA Show

Abbie Westra, Director, Editorial, CSP

Photo courtesy National Restaurant Association

Ten great ideas from the 2012 NRA Show

CHICAGO -- The greatest challenge of the National Restaurant Association (NRA) Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show, held May 5-8 in Chicago, is weeding through the 1,900 exhibitors to find your next great idea.

Luckily, Fare was there to scour the aisles for you. Following are 10 ideas we took away from the show. See any great new products or springboards for ideas yourself? Email them to [email protected].

1. More Mobile Than a Truck
The food-truck trend didn’t abate this year, rather targeting brick-and-mortar operators hoping to extend their brand. It also expanded to kiosks, such as Delfield’s GoCart, for even more mobility and flexibility in term of where you park. Try these mobile kiosks on college campuses to catch students dashing off to morning class, or in c-store parking lots to get customers at the pump who still aren’t entering the store.

2. Smoked Out
Trying to find your creative point of difference? What about barbecue? Southern Pride was showing off a new smoker for compact spaces, particularly c-stores. The MLR-150 uses a unique air-over firebox design for authentic barbecue pulled pork, brisket, chicken, you name it. Precise thermostatic control means little labor. Just think of the cross marketing you could do with your own line of sauces and rubs; you could even branch into catering.

3. Avoid Cross-Contamination
The explosion of gluten-free items in the marketplace is a boon for diners with celiac or gluten intolerance--but the new, increasingly better-tasting items do little good if they’re stored near items containing gluten. Many manufacturers have clued into this and are packaging dinner rolls, sandwich buns and cookies individually to keep the items safe from contact with gluten up to the point of service.

4. Holy Tea
Iced tea was showcased at nearly every coffee company’s booth, not to mention the tea companies themselves, and one of the most unique styles was an herbal tea made with Tulsi, better know as Holy Basil. From Honest Tea, the Heavenly Lemon Tulsi was a refreshing change of pace from the more typical sweet or green varieties.

5. Get Paid for Your Cooking Oil--and Know Where it’s Going
Selling your used cooking oil is nothing new, but AROSE (the Association for Restaurant Owners for a Sustainable Earth) wants you to think a little deeper about where that cooking oil is going. Often, it ends up at a rendering facility, where it’s used for animal feed. AROSE’s network of trucks and processing facilities refines cooking oil into biofuel, in particular industrial oils that actually reduce carbon emissions. The group has 14,000 restaurant partners around the country, including Newark Airport and Six Flags Great America.

6. Perfect Your Water
You’ve heard it before, and you’re about to hear it again: Water is one of the most important ingredients in your operation. So are you treating it properly? A number of exhibitors focused on the importance of water quality from the glass to the coffee maker. A.J. Antunes was showcasing its VIZION line, as well as its partnership with MAVEA, providing filtration systems for both cold water and hot water applications—which are more prone to scale buildup. FRANKE meanwhile is working with ice-machine manufacturers such as Ice-O-Matic and Scotsman to include an ice sanitation system that actually introduces ozone into the water to keep the machine and bin safe and sanitized without chemicals.

7. Pay it Forward
More and more, both operators and manufacturers are donating proceeds to nonprofits fighting childhood hunger and other food-justice issues. Makes sense--we’re all in the food business, after all. For every case of its new YES pack dressings, Kraft is donating one meal to Feeding America--up to 1 million meals. This type of philanthropy warms consumers to the company in a very topical way.

8. Embrace Induction
Fare has been touting the virtues of induction cooktops for some time now. They take ambient heat out of the air, have no open flame, heat up food and pans extremely fast, and can be quite portable (hence its adoration within the catering industry). Manitowoc has gotten into the induction game with an induction cooktop, wok and griddle. Check out induction--it might just be the perfect technology for your operations.

9. Evolve Your Brand
A legacy brand can be a powerful thing, but how do you know when it’s time for a refresh? Farmer Bros. thought now, and was showing off a new small-batch coffee line with a modernized logo and even had a mini coffee shop within its booth. The company, no spring chicken at 100 years old, runs a hip coffee shop in Portland, Public Domain, which serves as a lab for the roaster. The lab’s effects are evident in the Artisan line of barista-approved blends. Farmer Bros. has evolved with today’s coffee consumer: educated, aware, and in search of an experience with every cup. Have you evolved with yours?

10. Beverages, Any Way They Want It
The Coke Freestyle wasn’t the only thing offering attendees a customized beverage option at this year’s show. Copa Di Vino was exhibiting its plastic cups filled with wine, sealed and set for a picnic basket, tailgate or wherever one might need a convenient, disposable glass of wine. Coffee companies were talking up the importance of customization for the consumer with an array of sweeteners, creamers and toppings. And at least two companies were highlighting tea alternatives for diet soda: Lipton’s Zero Calorie teas, and Community Coffee’s low-calorie sweet tea.

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