Trends found at the restaurant show

The food and beverage offerings in all our company's projects are critical to our clients' success. In fact, for many of our projects, the F&B is actually the anchor attraction (see article this issue on The Next Big Thing). So each year Randy White, our CEO, attends the National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago to stay on top of what's happening in the restaurant industry (among lots of other research we do).

Last week his two sore feet returned from the 4-day show. It's a monstrous show. This year it was larger then ever with over 2,000 individual exhibitors in three giant trade halls. It's the largest restaurant show in the world.

You can tell when nascent trends go mainstream when there is a growing number of vendors offering particular items at the show. This is no scientific trend analysis, but based on comparing Randy's impression of the number of vendors offering products at the 2014 show with the number this year, here's what we see as growing trends in the restaurant industry:

Dessert with 3D printed sugar kolache
  • Eco-Friendly - Sustainability was a hot topic throughout the show, from the trade show floor to the educational sessions, panel discussions and cooking demonstrations. There was an increased number of suppliers of environmentally friendly packaging such as compostable wares and take-out packaging, probably at least triple compared to last year. Kitchen equipment suppliers were increasing showcasing new energy- and water-efficient equipment and composting equipment among many environmentally friendly features .
  • Allergen-Friendly - Gluten-free foods were everywhere, offered by over 100 food vendors. There were also vendors offering food products free of all the top 8 food allergens.
  • Alternate-Proteins - this is a nascent trend that was prominent for the first time
  • Organic - Wow, everywhere
  • Speed - This included kitchen equipment that could cook foods faster (how about a 2.5-minute pizza oven) to foods that are designed to take less cooking time.
  • Filtered Drinking Water - This is a growing trend in restaurants, offering highly filtered drinking water for free instead of premium, bottled waters. There was an increased number, 11, water-filtering equipment suppliers.
  • Smoke It - Smoky flavors were everywhere - smoked cheeses, turkey, even canned veggies are getting smoked.
  • Print It - This is a brand new trend, 3D food printing turning food into an art form (perfect for foodie photos on Instagram and social media).
  • Ancient Grains - Grains such as farro, einkorn, kamut, spelt, amaranth and lupin among others are making a comeback due to demand from health conscience eaters.
  • Desserts - The donut/cupcake craze keeps getting crazier. Gaining momentum is the croissant-donut, the townie, ice cream cupcakes and the oldie but goodie, kolache.