This year's NRA Show® was full of on-trend food, inspiring speakers and business-building education sessions—and it’s clear that operators couldn’t get enough.
“We’re in our third year of record-setting growth,” said Mary Pat Heftman, Executive Vice President, Convention & Strategic Alliances, National Restaurant Association®. “The feedback from exhibitors has been that there’s been great energy and great traffic.”
Here’s a peek at a few notable highlights of this year’s NRA Show.
Evolving customer and culture needs
Foodservice operators learned more about the younger generations who are influencing the industry through education sessions and Signature ’17. National Restaurant Association President and CEO Dawn Sweeney spoke with Generation Z/millennial expert Jason Dorsey at Signature ’17 about how to understand and best work with the millennial and Gen Z employee and customer. Similarly, a Saturday education session took a deep dive into Gen Z, and a Sunday session focused on attracting and retaining the next generation of leaders.
On Monday, Mike Greenberg, host of Mike and Mike on ESPN Radio and ESPN2, talked with Tom Ricketts, Chicago Cubs Executive Chairman, about leadership and how the Chicago Cubs fostered success from the ground up during Supersession: Defying the Curse.
“We’re bringing in people that attendees do not have access to,” said Heftman.
Crafted food and beverages
As always, the food was a major focus of this year’s Show. “We’re seeing a growth in craft foods with more exhibitors in this category than in years past,” said Heftman. “For example, craft condiments, teas and gluten-free items ranged from all aspects of preparation to the meal.”
Other food trends included:
- New cuts of meat (shoulder tender, oyster steak, Vegas Strip Steak, Merlot cut)
- Street food-inspired dishes (tempura, kabobs, dumplings, pupusas)
- Healthful kids' meals
- House-made charcuterie
- Sustainable seafood
- Ethnic-inspired breakfast items (chorizo scrambled eggs, coconut milk pancakes)
- House-made condiments
- Authentic ethnic cuisine
- Heirloom fruit and vegetables
- African flavors
“We saw the most food innovation at this year’s Show than any other year,” said Heftman. “The number of applicants we had for the FABI Awards and the number of recipients it generated was much higher in a lot of different categories, such as beverage, gluten-free, vegan, desserts and many other product development areas.”
As mindful eating becomes more popular, Heftman noted there were more products on the Show floor that addressed healthier, more sustainable options that also happen to be vegan. Some items include:
- Fabanaise—vegan mayonnaise utilizing aquafaba, a natural byproduct of the chickpea cooking process as an egg replacement.
- Ahimi—the world’s first plant-based, sustainable alternative to raw tuna, perfect for use in sushi, poke, tartare, ceviche and more.
- Bee Free Honee—the first-ever 100% plant based honey made from organic apples, requiring no bees or hives to produce.
- Beyond Meat—plant-based protein burger created to help improve human health, positively impact climate change, conserve natural resources and respect animal welfare.
“Sustainable seafood continues to be an important topic, and attendees wanted more educational sessions to address,” Heftman said. The topic was addressed during demonstrations and interactive sessions at both World Culinary Showcase and Foodamental Studio.
At World Culinary Showcase, Barton Seaver, Chef and Director of the Healthy and Sustainable Food Program at the Center for Health and Global Environment at Harvard, spoke about sustainable practices. Foodamental Studio Chef Jacob Verstegen from London House talked about the importance of sustainable seafood while demonstrating an Arctic Char Zuke.
Fourteen companies were selected by the NRA Show’s committee of restaurant operators to be showcased in the StartUp Alley pavilion. “These companies are at the forefront of where digital innovation and foodservice meet,” Heftman said. Important issues included electronic booking systems for restaurants, customer service, mobile menus and more. A few companies at StartUp Alley this year included:
Bite Inc.: Intelligent kiosks allow operators to learn more about their guests and give them a personalized ordering experience.
Octopus Management Inc.: A POS solution which is packed with features, allowing operators to manage their business operations with ease.
SeatNinja: A new and affordable electronic booking system for restaurants that broadcasts live wait times to customers.
This post is sponsored by The National Restaurant Association®