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NRA wrap up: Record sales, healthy menus

Restaurant industry sales are projected to reach a record $475.8 billion in 2005, reported the National Restaurant Association at its annual Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show, which ended earlier this week. That's a 4.9% increase over 2004, or 2.1% adjusted for inflation. With a 14th consecutive year of real sales growth, the outlook is positive for both operators and suppliers, said the NRA. However, all segments are keeping a wary eye on food and energy costs.

Technology and health were major trends driving the show. Several manufacturers exhibited sophisticated cooking equipment that streamlines food preparation while turning out superior results. On the healthy eating front, exhibitors were touting organics, whole grains, nutrient-enhanced beverages, and trans-fat-free products. Although the aroma of deep-frying still permeated the halls, there seemed to be more grilled and unbreaded items to sample.

"Consumers have shown a steady increase in attention to nutrition and are looking to restaurants to offer exciting new menu options from which to choose," said NRA President and CEO Steven C. Anderson. "In fact, restaurants are reporting increased sales of entree salads, bottled water, vegetables, and fruit side dishes."

The show was held from May 21-24 in Chicago's McCormick Place. More than 2,000 companies exhibited, attracting over 73,000 attendees.

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