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Highlights from the 2017 National Restaurant Association Show: Part 3

June 2, 2017

Hosting more than 2,000 exhibitors and 60,000 industry professionals, the National Restaurant Association show took place from May 20 to May 23 at McCormick Place in Chicago.

Our first and second post looked at how consumer dynamics and the role of technology are transforming and impacting the restaurant industry. Let’s not forget, though, that this show was also about food. Here are some of our observations.

Craft and Care
Annika Stensson, director of research communications for the NRA noted that culinary themes are more and more concept-based than simply ingredient or dish based. Less important is what is the new “kale” or “sriracha” as much as where those ingredients are sourced, how it is prepared, and the story behind the craft. Nancy Kruse, president of The Kruse Co., was also a proponent of dialing up menu R&D to create an experience that reflects the customer need of creativity, health, and fun.

Textures in beverages: Along with cold brewing, nitro coffee was the rage adding a foamy texture to a daily staple. Canned alcoholic beverages, like Joia Spirit, infusing sparkling water with classic cocktail creations like Moscow mule and Cosmopolitans, show up alongside larger brands like SmartWater and Voss, with new sparkling entries.

Plants as protein: Along with other health-related themes such as sustainable fish and poultry, healthy meals for kids and alternative grains, one predominant theme was plant-based protein as center of plate. A new tuna alternative, Ahimi, was an instant hit. With all the characteristics and applications of tuna, this product is made of tomatoes and is the first in a line of new products from Ocean Hugger Foods. Equally as impressive, is Beyond Meat’s plant-based burger patties that do not resemble any of the “hockey puck” characteristics associated with meatless burgers. Finally, chickpeas found their way into kids snacking with brands like Hippeas, as well as other products including vegan mayonnaise and organic pasta.

Takeaway: The consumer palate is becoming increasingly global and creative in terms of concept, while become much more refined and informed in terms of content. As the tension between imaginative concepts worth paying more for and simple, conscious ingredients and craft evolves, menu developers that understand where their brands core proposition and meaningful innovation intersect, will be those that can delight their customers with unique items.