The National Restaurant Association celebrates another info-packed NRA Show
The 93rd NRA Show — held in conjunction with the International Wine, Spirits & Beer Event (IWSB) — has come and gone, and show organizers are reaping the benefits of a six per cent year-over-year increase in registrants.
“NRA Show 2012 and IWSB were blockbuster events, each delivering a high-impact springboard to energize the restaurant and foodservice industry,” says Jack Crawford, convention chair for NRA Show 2012, held at Chicago’s McCormick Place in early May. “In only four days, attendees get a year’s worth of solutions and ideas.”
Inside the massive convention centre, more than 1,900 exhibitors, including 46 Canadians, attracted an estimated 60,000 attendees from more than 100 countries. Andrew Concannon, proprietor of Oakville, Ont.-based The Queens Head Pub, was one of several foodservice operators looking for new ideas. “Flatbreads and new artisanal pizza doughs were very prevalent — they were everywhere — but products of particular interest to my business were the vac-packed guacamole and, of course, the crew from Bottoms Up Beer. That’s very innovative,” he says, of the draft-beer pouring system.
Meanwhile, according to NRA show feedback, quality not price was the primary concern of operators attending this year’s event, a change from years past. While walking the showroom floor, attendees would have noticed a number of trends, including miniature- or single-serving desserts, indulgent desserts, customizable coffee, better-for-you items, a focus on sustainability, south-east Asian flavours, molecular for the masses, convenience solutions and hypoallergenic food.
Attendees were also surrounded by innovation in technology. Exhibitors touted equipment and software that increases speed of production and service efficiency, reduces waste, improves sanitation and conserves water and energy. And, of course, another dominant theme was the introduction of a number of social-media service providers using mobile technology to connect guests with foodservice operators for reservation and food-ordering purposes. Zoomline, a Chicago-based mobile-service provider, promoted a smartphone app that allows patrons to by-pass lines at their favourite venue for a nominal fee.
But, aside from 16 kilometres of exhibitor space, 70 educational sessions covered subjects such as profitability and entrepreneurship, sustainability/social responsibility, food and healthy living, franchising, jobs and careers as well as technology. But, the most buzz-worthy educational element came from the keynote address by former U.S. president Bill Clinton who praised the industry’s healthy dining initiatives for fighting childhood hunger and obesity. “Thank you for all that’s being done through your initiatives to help our kids live a healthier future,” he said. “What works is what you’re doing to feed kids and help them eat healthier. What works is cooperation.”
So it makes sense that this year’s show featured a Healthier Kids Fare Pavilion, showcasing food and beverage products that are low in fats, sugars and sodium and high in essential nutrients.
The show also spotlighted several industry heavyweights. This year, Evelyn Hill Inc., which runs New York City’s Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, received NRA’s Innovator of the Year honours at the inaugural Operator Innovations Award Ceremony held at the Harris Theatre Rooftop Terrace in Millennium Park. The site was celebrated for its sustainability practices, including its success in achieving close to zero waste despite having five-million visitors each year. The 550 guests who attended the celebratory party were entertained by Kenny Loggins who kept the sold-out, foot-loose crowd on its feet. Other awards were presented to Stacked Restaurants for facilitating a “build-your-own” ordering system (Technology); Waffle House for establishing a public-private partnership to secure foodservice safety following disasters (Food Safety); Chartwells Higher Education Dining Services for making healthier eating cool on campus (Health and Nutrition); and Sodexo School Services for its culinary competition, which engages future chefs across the country. (Menu Development)
Next year, the NRA Show will run from May 18 to 21.