Healthy eating and drinking options are in high profile at the centennial edition of the National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel & Motel Show that opened Saturday, May 18, at Chicago’s McCormick Place.
The National Restaurant Association is hosting 43,000 attendees through Tuesday, May 21, who gathered to sample and show off their latest products, tech, innovation and industry trends. The association began the annual show, which now calls Chicago home, in 1919.
Big changes in the beverage category were highly prominent as coffee, tea and soft drink makers are shifting gears toward more health-conscious drinkables, partly in response to preferences of millennial consumers but also to general demand for “good for you” beverages.
Carbonated drinks will face stiff competition from selections like infused waters offering just a hint of fruit or cucumber or mint flavors. Unsweetened teas in a variety of fruity and minty flavors abound, as well. Even coffee-flavored drinks that are less coffee and more punch are ready to hit the market.
Several drink makers said they’ve observed increased demand for flavors that flirt with the exotic yet keep some familiar flavor components; things like turmeric, cucumber lime, passion fruit and horchata. And c-store retailers are noticing, too.
‘“There’s a lot going on in beverage so even though eight of 10, nine out of 10 people come to a convenience store and have a beverage in their basket, we still see a big opportunity there,’“ said Chris Gheysens, president and CEO of Wawa. ‘“So you see functional, you see all these great teas. Whether it’s functional for gut health or whether it’s following some diet, that’s really exciting for us.’“
Plant-based protein products are a big thing here, as well, especially in the meat replacement arena. Around a dozen booths prepared and served plant-based hamburgers, tacos and other dishes.
‘“It’s blowing up and it’s really getting mainstream so I think for us that’s exciting because that’s probably a customer that is maybe giving us the veto today and not coming into our stores I think we can attract over time,’“ Gheysens said. ‘“We’ve had a lot of interest from vegetarian, vegan customers on those fronts.’“
FOOD PROS GET TO BONE UP ON EXPERTISE
Networking and educational sessions are also on the agenda for people who have come from all 50 U.S. states and more than 100 nations. With so many hospitality and food-service professionals in one place, the National Restaurant Association show is a can’t miss for making connections.
Besides the networking opportunities, a major attraction for show attendees is the learning component. The show offers more than 100 educational sessions in category options across the board. Regardless of their area of the business, attendees can educate themselves in five focus tracks: Hiring and Retention, Culinary Insights, Marketing Matters, Tech and Innovation, and Beverage and Alcohol.
‘“We develop programs focused on the pain points restaurateurs around the world face each day, and on opportunities that they can take advantage of to grow their businesses,’“ said Marc Lapides, vice president of marketing, programming and communications for the show. ‘“Revenue growth, managing a workforce in a tight labor market, digital marketing, leveraging restaurant technology, and uncovering trends to shape menus are all part of the program.’“
Lapides said that there are multiple sessions for every operator, regardless of size or segment.
On top of those sessions are a handful of specialized meetings including Menu Trends: 2020 and Beyond, Digital Media Slam and Women Leaders Panel.
KI Fireside Chats feature food-service operators, consultants, dealers, designers and others sharing their industry insights by offering a look at what’s to come for operators of all shapes and sizes.
The National Restaurant Association is the leading business association for the restaurant industry, which comprises more than one million restaurant and food-service outlets and a workforce of 15.1 million employees. It represents the industry in Washington, D.C., and in partnership with 52 state associations, advocates on the industry’s behalf in states and locations across the nation.
For more information, visit the show online at www.nationalrestaurantshow.com.