During the third week in May, both the 2018 National Restaurant Association Show and the Sweets & Snacks Expo descended on McCormick Place in Chicago, filling the exhibit halls with thousands of food and drink products. Vendors at the National Restaurant Association Show vie for the attention of chefs, restaurant operators and other foodservice providers, while those at the Expo are out to tempt retailers. Although each show is geared to a different market, similar flavor and ingredient trends emerged in the products on display, showing that foodservice lines continue to blur. Here are four we came across.
1. Vegetables as ingredient stars
National Restaurant Association Show exhibitors handing out samples of plant-based meats and veggie pizza crusts drew crowds of interested attendees. Tastes of lentil pasta, sweet potato dips and smoked jackfruit attracted operators, too. Vegetables also showed up as a top ingredient in the products available for nibbling at the Sweets & Snacks Expo. Cauliflower pretzels, seaweed crisps and chips made of everything from shiitake mushrooms to beets seemed to top the snack selection.
2. Hot on cold brew
Nitro cold-brew coffee was dispensed by a number of beverage and equipment companies at the restaurant show. Although cold brew has been trending for the last couple of years, more exhibitors were infusing the coffee with nitrogen to create that sought-after foam. Candy makers are also jumping on the trend, flavoring chocolates and other sweets with cold-brew coffee and using the term on the label.
3. Asian crossovers
From automated poke bowl makers and sushi robots to matcha-flavored gelato and many varieties of kimchi, Asian influences and companies were prominent at the restaurant show. At the Expo, more familiar Asian flavors, including ginger, lemongrass and green tea, permeated both sweet and savory products, but manufacturers also capitalized on the popularity of the cuisine in other ways, such as with Korean kimchi barbecue pork rinds and gummy candies shaped like sushi.
4. Protein power
In addition to burgers made from plant-based protein and other products made from protein-rich beans, lentils and nuts, there was no lack of new seafood, meat and poultry products at the earlier show—many of which touted clean labels and sustainability. Quinoa, a grain high in protein, showed up in several pastas, breads and crackers. And eggs in convenient forms were in evidence at both shows. A restaurant show exhibitor displayed a kit for making deviled eggs, complete with a piping bag and prepped ingredients, while a Sweets & Snacks vendor offered ready-to-eat bacon and eggs in a grab-and-go package.