Attendance at this year’s NRA Show in Chicago substantially surpassed 2015 numbers, with a 7 percent increase in the number of exhibitors as well (2,200). “This year’s Show was high energy and included many changes to make attendees’ experience more personable and relatable,” says Mary Pat Heftman, NRA executive vice president for convention & strategic alliances. “It’s important that attendees are given examples and information that will directly impact their business to make improvements.”
Attendees packed the Grand Ballroom for the new Signature ’16 session on Sunday and for the Show’s first-ever crowdsourced session, Reality Gets Real, on Monday. These unique events, which crossed over from a straight-on lecture to panel discussion and included Q and As with the audience, emphasized the Show’s liveliness and relevance. “The two events, as well as many of the many of the educational sessions, provided a much greater value to attendees,” said Phil Kafarakis, NRA’s chief innovation and member advancement officer.
Through sessions such as these, the NRA was able to create memorable events that attendees can’t find anywhere else. The energy and connectivity of the featured speakers and the way they presented themselves, beyond their external social media personalities, resonated with the audience. “I found the back-and-forth panel discussions to be down-to-earth, with in-the-trenches examples,” said one attendee of the Reality Gets Real session. “I was able to make a personal connection, because I go through the same problems they described.”
Additionally, the NRA Show is a platform not just to pack a room, but also to bring the industry together to share information and exchange dialogue on issues that everyone might not agree on. “We can agree to disagree,” said Kafarakis, “but when you walk out of the Show, you’ll have a new perspective on how to conduct your business and make a positive impact.”
This year’s Show also introduced attendees to the Bellavita Italian Expo, which opened to rave reviews. Attendees got close to never-before seen Italian flavors, foods, wines and cheeses and witnessed amazing demonstrations. “We will to continue to expand this Pavilion as we continue to grow our relationship with them,” Heftman said. “Bellavita is a big part of the Show’s future.”
Other trends highlighted on the Show floor included the continuation of different culinary profiles coming together, such as chili-infused honey, flavor-infused ice, flavor-infused cocktail enhancers, such as bitters, and other key ingredients. “Culinary infusion is not really new, but it continues to expand and push the culinary envelope,” said Heftman.
On the tech side, robotics made an entrance at the Show and demonstrated to attendees how they could boost efficiency, reduce waste and be consistent in food preparation.
And next year’s Show promises to be bigger and better and will be enhanced based on this year’s Show’s platform and feedback from attendees. “New content has to be responsive to where the industry is in six months from now to give us a look at where the industry will be six months from there,” said Heftman. “Attendees of next year’s Show can expect to see even more thought leaders from different aspects of the industry talking about different experiences that will very personable and relatable for all attendees to understand.”
This post is sponsored by The National Restaurant Association®