Some 67,000 attendees swarmed the floors of the National Restaurant Association 2018 Show, sampling, mingling and learning from the 2,000 exhibitors who set up shop in Chicago’s McCormick Place from May 19-22, 2018. While each exhibitor had something to offer the foodservice, hospitality and affiliated professionals, a number of trends and innovations emerged that are worth a second look here.
Plant-Based Protein Dominates
No one could miss the crowds around the two Lakeside Pavilion booths sampling plant-based burgers, sausages, meatballs and more: Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods. Staffers worked tirelessly to provide samples, which were gone nearly as soon as they dropped on the counters. Beyond these much-anticipated products, though, a number of other plant-based options showcased the rise in demand for vegetarian and vegan cuisine.
Rising Automation Options
Operators looking to stem rising labor costs had a number of options to review, from a sushi-making machine from Suzumo International Corporation to Multiplex’s FreshBlender, a self-service smoothie-making machine. Barsys’ smart cocktail maker made waves in the BAR Pavilion, as folks looked on the machine that makes a cocktail in as little as 25 seconds.
Say Hi to Robots
In an innovation that goes beyond simple automation, Bear Robotics demoed a robotic server that they have dubbed “Penny” that can be controlled through a touchscreen tablet but can also find its own way around a crowded dining room. It has a 16-inch serving tray and reportedly can take over simple tasks like delivering a check or offering water to customers.
Companies such as Natalie’s Juice, which won a FABI award for its Matcha Lemonade, sampled clean-label beverages, a trend that’s rising in the ranks as customers look for products with short, simple ingredient lists. The aforementioned lemonade contains just four ingredients: water, cane sugar, lemons and matcha tea.
The Rise of Vegetables
Consumers have been steadily increasing their vegetable consumption, and industry has responded by creating products to meet that demand. Patrons at NRA’s show were able to sample veggie options such as buffalo cauliflower and beet salsa. Pete’s Living Greens offered a taste of hydroponically greenhouse-grown sea beans that still have the roots attached, reportedly for extended freshness and quality.
The Global Factor
The opportunities to learn more about global flavors was ripe on the show floor, particularly in the Lakeside Pavilion, where attendees could wander through booths featuring foods from Mexico, France, Japan. The largest, the Bellavita Italian Pavilion, showcased a bevy of dishes, ingredients, drinks and sauces from il bel paese.
Nitro Meets Coffee
Nitro cold-brewed coffee has gone mainstream, and it showed on the show floor. La Colombe Coffee Roasters highlighted its new canned Draft Latte, while Bunn-O-Matic showed its Nitron Cold Draft, a keg-free nitro coffee machine.
The Importance of the Foodservice Industry
Keynote speaker Condoleezza Rice, former secretary of state and national security advisor, shared her thoughts on a variety of topics during the Signature ‘18 session, which included how restaurants and foodservice plays an integral role in the American job market. Although the U.S. in an educational “crisis,” she said, restaurants and other operations provide a path to a steady income for those unable to earn a college degree.
About Kelsey Casselbury
Kelsey Casselbury is a freelance writer and editor with nearly a decade of foodservice journalism experience, with a specialty in K-12 operations. She’s currently a contributing editor for School Nutrition magazine and former food editor for What’s Up? Media, a regional Maryland media company. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn.