"The Stick" by 'Top Chef' Texas: Season 9 contestants Chris Jones and Richie Farina at World Culinary Showcase, NRA Show 2012
By Derrek J. Hull, Blogger-in-Chief
From never-before-seen flavor combinations to globally sourced ingredients to food trucks and more, the 2012 National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show and International Wine, Spirits & Beer Event showcased the hottest trends driving the restaurant and foodservice industry. This year’s Show – which attracted 1,900 exhibitors and more than 61,000 registrants from all 50 states and more than 100 countries – offered a sneak peek into the industry’s future.
According to the National Restaurant Association’s 2012 Restaurant Industry Forecast, nine out of 10 restaurant operators said their customers are more knowledgeable and sophisticated about food and beverages than ever before. This year’s NRA Show was proof positive that the industry has responded to this evolution, as products and services catering to those hungry for the latest trends were prevalent throughout the show floor.
Exhibitors really brought their ‘A game’ this year, and attendees were buzzing about the non-stop action – from the Robofusion ice cream robot at the Stoelting booth, to the world’s largest potato, courtesy of the Idaho Potato Commission. There was undoubtedly something new to do, see and eat at every turn,” said James Balda, chief marketing and communications officer for the National Restaurant Association.
Top trends from the exhibit floor at NRA Show 2012 – held at Chicago’s McCormick Place May 5-8 – included:
- Healthful Alternatives: In response to Americans’ growing interest in health and nutrition, the Organic and Natural Pavilion featured a host of wholesome, nutritious food products. For example, Mara’s Pasta, a 2012 recipient of The NRA Food & Beverage Product Innovation Awards, showcased Maragrain, ™nutritious pasta made from a proprietary non-durum variety of wheat grown for Cook Natural Products. Karoun Dairies, which manufactures Mediterranean specialty cheeses and dairy products, displayed an all natural yogurt drink.
- Premium and Artisan Products: Targeting the evolving tastes of savvy restaurant customers looking for a unique dining experience, premium products were a clear food trend this year. Exhibitors showcased products with non-traditional flavor combinations, customizable offerings and premium ingredients, including SasaPops – another recipient of The NRA Food & Beverage Product Innovation Awards–with its all natural frozen pops in flavors like Pink Guava and Salted Peanut Caramel. FerminIberico, a recipient of the same award in 2011, displayed high-quality cured Iberico and Serrano pork.
- Gluten-Free Products: According to the National Institutes of Health, about one in 100 Americans is affected by celiac disease. As awareness of gluten intolerance is growing, gluten-free products are making their way into the mainstream market, and the NRA Show 2012 exhibit floor featured a range of such products. Venice Bakery, a third-generation pizza manufacturer, offered products such as gluten-free pizza dough and gluten-free focaccia. And proving that the trend has also made its way into the beverage industry, all ciders featured at the International Wine, Spirits & Beer Event, including Angry Orchard and Woodchuck, were gluten-free.
- Food Trucks: Food trucks continue to drive interest, as six in 10 consumers say they would visit a food truck offered by their favorite restaurant, proving that mobile restaurant options aren’t a flash-in-the-pan concept. Mobi Munch, a company that manufactures customized food trucks, showcased their services, including a POS platform, menu consultation, brand-building services and truck rental, allowing interested restaurateurs to take advantage of the food truck trend. In addition, six food trucks were exhibiting.
- Ethnic Cuisines and Flavors: Responding to consumers’ increasingly global palates, the NRA Show’s International Cuisine Pavilion was home to foods from around the globe, providing a one-stop-shop for those looking to satisfy their international curiosities and cravings. Mediterranean Gourmet offered unique products like Traditional Grilled pepper salad from Tunisia and Paella from Spain. Attendees also sampled offerings like Ace Farms USA Inc’s roasted seaweed snacks, a staple of Korean diets for thousands of years.
Save the date! NRA Show 2013 will take place 18-21 at Chicago’s McCormick Place, and IWSB at the NRA Show, will be held May 19-20.