Once again, the National Restaurant Association put on quite a show – representing big names like Coca-Cola as well as small companies like CoffeeInACone. It’s still too early to tell, but this year might beat last year’s 66,000 attendees. With 14.7 million employees in the restaurant industry, it’s certainly a possibility.
Lucky us, we got to sample many of the products displayed on the show floor and talk with vendors. It gave us a great perspective on what’s trending in the food and beverage industry. Above all, the show highlighted the restaurant industry’s movement toward novel, organic, and homemade products, reflecting the desires of the general population.
Here are some of the biggest trends we observed at the show.
The NRA did not simply showcase products and services from the United States. The show was well represented by exhibitors – and attendees – from a variety of locations, including Germany, Japan, China, India, Italy, Mexico, Greece, and others. For example, Grecian Delightoffered traditional Mediterranean specialties such as gyros, hummus, and flatbreads. Germany’s Essendorfer’s display included a pyramid of jams and jellies, with unusual products such as apricot passionfruit.
Pizza, Pasta, and Artisan Breads
Bring on the carbs! Come lunchtime, attendees and exhibitors headed toward the South Hall, where specialty pizzas, pasta (regular and gluten-free), and bread dominated the floor. Samples were abundant, as many were manufacturers’ showing off the results of their specialized equipment. Of course, the exhibitors used buzzwords like homemade and organic to describe their sauces and dough.
This year’s NRA Show was the place to be for those with a sweet tooth. Donuts and Belgian waffles for breakfast eaters. Followed by ornately decorated cakes, pastries, and cookies for lunch (yes, we ate sweets for lunch). Many exhibitors offered gelato, where lines were long for quite generous samples. Wunderbar offered cheesecake dipped in chocolate on a stick, a particularly delicious dessert. Ghiradelli gave out frappes and milkshakes. You could even try reconstituted powdered ice cream and frozen yogurt.
Chicken nuggets, chicken wings, fried chicken, Korean fried chicken wings, brick-pressed chicken. Despite the many meat vendors, chicken held its own, and lines were long for samples. One reason for the popularity was most likely the sheer number of vendors showcasing grills and fryers, like Broaster.
Beef, Pork, Salami, and Sausage
For die-hard carnivores, the show was a delight. Butchers set up shop, offering generous servings of various cuts of meat. Viennese Beef gave out free, full-sized hot dogs, generating long lines. Exhibitors described their meats as “natural,” meaning free range, no antibiotics, grass fed, or sustainable. Some paired their meats with artisan cheeses as well.
Unusual Sauces, Seasonings, Spices, Syrups, …
Jams, spreads, dressings, marinades, dips. You get the idea. Exhibitors took seemingly disparate ingredients and combined them in new and innovative ways. Wherever you turned there was a cracker with a sample of cherry chipotle spread, raspberry elder jam, pumpkin pesto, or some other novel or exotic product.
Coffee and Tea
Exhibitors offered a great variety of specialty coffees and teas, which attracted foot traffic in the morning and in the late afternoon when sugar lows kicked in. Both hot and cold teas and coffees were represented. Nitro-infused coffee was a big attraction. For those new to the term, it is basically cold coffee that often comes on tap and becomes a foamy concentrated beverage.
It’s hard to believe the show is over, but we enjoyed meeting those of you who visited our booth. Please stay connected. The 100th anniversary of the NRA is only a year away. We look forward to seeing you there.