RC Show Brings Heart & Hustle to Annual Event


TORONTO — The Restaurants Canada Show (RC Show) returned to Toronto’s Enercare Centre last week for three days of panel discussions, workshops, competitions and networking opportunities for the foodservice industry. Canada’s leading foodservice and hospitality expo, this year’s event featured more than 1,000 booths featuring trusted brands; nine curated pavilions with innovative and cost-saving products and services; eight culinary and beverage competitions; seven stages of programming with top experts and innovators; four experiential feature areas; and three networking events.

Day one of the show kicked off with the highly-anticipated Restaurants Canada State of the Industry presented by Chris Elliott, chief economist & vice-president, Research, Restaurants Canada. Elliott outlined the economic status and identified the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for the foodservice industry.

“In today’s foodservice industry, it’s a lot more complicated,” said Elliott by way of introduction to his findings. “Restaurant operators are trying to re-build their sales while dealing with chronic labour shortages, which are driving up wages. And at the same time there are soaring food costs and rising utility prices. Traffic has not come back to normal, yet delivery and takeout are continuing to change the foodservice landscape. And on top of all that, restaurant operators are making less money and going more into debt. This is the world we now live in — a lot more complexity and a lot less certainty.”

Elliott’s presentation was broken into two parts: firstly, the state of the economy and its direct impact on foodservice sales and secondly, how that economy is going to impact foodservice sales, what we’re going to see with the latest consumer trends, and Restaurant Canada’s latest foodservice sales forecast.

“The Bank of Canada has picked two per cent as the optimal inflation rate for steady long-term economic growth. So that’s why we want to see inflation hovering around that target level. And we did see that in 2019. Now, with the re-opening of the economy, we saw inflation jumped to 3.4 per cent. This is the highest level since 2011. But we have never shut down a global economy before and then re-opened —this has never been done before. And so, there was massive amounts of supply disruption, people couldn’t get products and that led to inflation of 8.1 per cent — its highest level in 40 years.”

Elliott said the expectation is that the country will start to see a steady decline in the core inflation and the overall inflation. “At the end of the fourth quarter, we had overall inflation at 6.6 per cent. That’s expected to drop to 5.4 per cent in the first quarter, so that by the end of 2023, we’re looking at inflation around three per cent, which is the upper boundry of the Bank of Canada’s target range. This is a good thing.”

And then by the end of 2024, he said we’ll see inflation dropped to about two per cent, which is again, right on target. “This is a good-news story for a lot of restaurant operators, because a lot of the products that you’re buying, you’re not going to see that high inflation rate that we’ve been seeing. Now, the downside of that is that food inflation is going to remain high for the least the next six months. This is largely because of supply issues, district energy prices, transportation costs remain high, processing costs remain high. So, we’re going to still see food prices in that five to seven per cent range. But overall, we are going to see that reduction in overall inflation, which is a good thing.

Growth Series: Culinary Insights

During her StudioX Growth Series presentation, Christine Couvelier, global culinary trendologist and president of Trendi, highlighted the most popular F&B product and ingredient trends for 2023 to inspire menu development, enhance the guest experience and boost profitability. The theme for Couvelier’s 2023 Trendi Watch Report is Eat, Drink and Think.

“Whether it’s sweet or spicy, grilled or smoked, food halls or farmers’ markets, plant-based or food waste, my challenge to [operators] is to think about what inspires you and where you’re looking for inspiration,” said Couvelier. “What could you achieve in your business with [these] food-and-drink trends at your fingertips?”

Couvelier’s food-and-drink trends for 2023 include:

Back to the Drawing Board: It’s all about Charcuterie

  • Couvelier said charcuterie can be more than just meat, making note of breakfast boards with mini French toast, pancakes, bagels and cream cheese; farmers’ market boards with heirloom tomatoes, colourful carrots, butternut squash, dips and ciabatta; dessert boards with s’mores, graham crackers and chocolate; and fondue boards with seedless grapes, sliced apples, baguettes and dried fruits. Couvelier also encouraged the audience to think about beverages that could be created to accompany different charcuterie boards. 

Hot! Hot! Hot! An Escape to a Tropical Island

  • Couvelier said consumers can escape to a tropical island through fun, fresh and fruity flavours. She highlights tropical spices, including cinnamon and garam masala; cooking techniques, including grilling and caramelizing; and flavours, including coconut, pineapple, mango, lime, guava and passionfruit.

Salt is the New Pepper

  • Couvelier said salts can change up recipes and innovations. Small grinds can be used in a spice rub while large grinds can be used as a finishing salt. Options include pink peppercorn salt, black lava salt and Hawaiian red salt.

Consumers as Chefs

  • Consumers are cooking more meals at home and gathering inspiration from chefs’ stories, tastes and products, who can show them how to take a dish to the next level. Examples provided by Couvelier included adding sriracha to a brisket broth or balsamic to roasted chicken. Additionally, chefs have become suppliers and provide products to consumers on shelves.

Going Bananas

  • Couvelier said bananas play a huge role in consumers’ memories. According to Couvelier’s research, 73 per cent of consumers would like new products or menu items that taste like something from their past.

Eating like an Italian

  • Labelled as the cuisine of 2023, Couvelier said to watch for negroni sbagliatos, fresh pastas made from fava flour, spaghetti squash or green bananas, risottos, pizzas and fresh tomatoes.

The Great Pumpkin

  • Couvelier said pumpkin is the ingredient of the year. It’s a super food that’s low in calories and fat and is good for the liver, blood pressure, cholesterol and immune system. She also said the seeds are a great snack and can be sprinkled on a salad or used as a crust on chicken or salmon.

Better Butter

  • Couvelier said people can taste the terroir in the butter, depending on where it comes from. She highlighted Kerrygold salted and unsalted butter from Ireland, as well as a French butter produced in teakwood churns.

Classic Cocktail Revival

  • This cocktail movement is characterized by a return to traditions, a revival of old recipes and a re-introduction of forgotten spirits.

Chili Crisp

  • Chili crisp, a blend of fried chili peppers, chili flakes, garlic and oil (with many iterations) is the condiment of the year. Couvelier said she puts in on roasted vegetables, mashed potatoes, yogurt, roasted chicken and pizza.

Additionally, Couvelier highlighted the top culinary destinations, including Guadalarharja, Mexico; San Antonio, Texas; Mallorca, Spain; Orange County, Calif.; Lyon, France; and Rome. Couvelier went on to talk about eliminating food waste. She said roughly “61 per cent of households have food waste, 26 per cent of food waste comes from retailers and restaurants and 19 per cent comes from grocery stores.” Specifically, Trendi uses a food-processing system that can blend wasted fruits and vegetables into a powder or puree while retaining 90 per cent of vitamins and nutrients and decreasing storage, packaging and shipping costs.

Looking ahead, Couvelier said the culinary landscape will revolve around blood oranges, grilling, maple syrup, pink glow pineapples from Costa Rica, pink celery from China, hot honey and fuel for consumers.

Full Court Press: Full-Service Leadership Panel

Back on the Speaker Stage, a panel of full-service leaders provided their take on the issues and priorities driving the future of the segment. Moderated by Vanessa Crooker, vice-president, Partnerships, Insights & Brand, American Express Canada, the panel included Conley Rollins, CRO, Resy; Krista Krziyzek, vice-president of Human Resources, The Keg; Eric Robertston, chef, Restaurant Pearl Morissette; Huy Tran, national director, Marketing, Aburi Restaurants Canada; and Jeff Jamieson, partner, Proof.

The discussion began by addressing trends that have emerged post-pandemic and how each panellist is adapting to them.

“As soon as [the pandemic] was all over, so to speak, there was a big rush and we saw last year’s numbers were fairly encouraging,” said Jamieson. “Everything was looking up again, and we’re in what seemed to be a bit of a normal environment. But then, I guess with the hangover of everything that resulted from some of the steps we took to mitigate the pandemic, we started to see inflation kick in; we started to see a lot of wallets start to hurt a bit, resulting some reduction [of spending]. With our restaurants, we’ve had to raise prices by about 20 per cent due to food costs and increases in inflation. Since pre-pandemic prices, we’re seeing an average check that’s decreasing. Not significantly, but enough that it’s worrisome.”

He said consumers are making smarter choices with their money, going out to restaurants a little bit less. “And when they do come out, we’re finding that they’re buying lower target price things. For example, we have a cocktail bar, and we have a restaurant. Beer sales in the cocktail bar have doubled as a percentage of the sales mix in the last six months. Same for the restaurant, where beer is taking a chunk out of wine sales.”

To mitigate it, Jamieson said his team is trying to find some cheaper products “that we still think are high quality that we want to use. But unfortunately, much of it is being passed on to the guest with price increases. If you read the newspapers, we’re reaching the end of what people are willing to accept for casual price increases, so it’s going to be pretty tight moving forward. It’s going to be a little tenuous, and we’re going to have to start getting very creative with regards to how we continue to draw people into the restaurant and give them good value for their money.”

The hour-long panel also touched on addressing the labour gap, the importance of sustainability, workplace culture, best training methods and DE&I strategies.

The Big Pitcher: Beer Leadership Panel

Titans of Canada’s beer industry gathered at the Bar & Beverage Stage to hash out the challenges, trends and opportunities that are driving the heart and hustle of the category.

Prior to the panel, Joe Pawlak, managing principal at Technomic Inc., presented some key data. There was a 7.4-per-cent increase of beer on Canadian menus in the past year, and a 1.8-per-cent increase of beer on Canadian menus from pre-pandemic (Q1 2020) to today. The fastest growing beer beverages year-over-year included alcohol-free beer (19 per cent); flavoured malt beverage (14 per cent); domestic beer (12 per cent); imported beer (eight per cent); hard sparkling water/soda (seven per cent); craft beer (four per cent); and hard cider (four per cent).

Moderated by CJ Hélie, president, Beer Canada, panellists included Manjit Minhas, owner & CEO, Minhas Brewery & Distillery and Dragon Investor, Dragon’s Den; Lindsay Wilson, director of Marketing, Molson Coors Beverage Company; and Natalie Lucas, director of Beyond Beer, Labatt Breweries of Canada. Together, the panellists discussed sustainability, demand for no/lo, low-carb/calorie and gluten-free brews and the renaissance of beer merch culture.

The panel kicked off with a discussion about women re-claiming their space in the beer industry, as well as the wider movement to improve DEI.

“It’s not only women, I think the whole diversity piece – voices, age, gender and experience – wasn’t usually the case. Everybody wanted that Canadian/North American feel,” said Minhas. “Now, it actually means better business if [companies] have diverse voices from around the world and bring them to the marketing or innovation table within the organization to speak to customers, who don’t all fit into one box anymore. Diversity has changed the view of what a beer company is and who they are.”

The discussion also touched on the role of brewers in influencing public policy. The industry was almost hit with a 6.3 per cent tax hike on April 1, but Restaurants Canada and other industry advocates were able to get the tax reduced to two per cent.

“A good government is always talking to its stakeholders and understanding the good and the bad because there could always be unintended consequences of policy decisions,” said Wilson. “I think it’s on everybody in every industry and in every company to talk to government about what you’re doing and what your hopes are, especially in an industry like ours where our future and our profitability is tied to government so much and is constantly changing.”

The conversion switched gears into the rising demand for no/lo, low-carb/calorie and gluten-free options. Surprisingly, Wilson said 60 per cent of people coming in to the non-alcohol category are 19-34 years old.

“It’s not an and/or,” she said. “That’s another misconception – the category is changing and there’s room for both.”

Conversely, Minhas said, “I’m a fan of the low-calorie, low-carb and low-alcohol as an option, especially if someone is consuming cannabis at the same time, but I will be the first one to admit that the no-alcohol side has been a money dump for her, not only as an owner but also an investor. It has been six years of putting a lot of money into it and nothing out of it. Sometimes fads are just that, and I’ll be watching carefully over the next five years to see if this is something that has sustainable legs and is profitable.”

Work Smarter, Not Harder: How to Streamline Your Workflow to Help Manage Peak Volumes

In this session, René-Pier Plourde, head of UEAT University, UEAT, and Nicola McHughen, product manager, Moneris, shared a few tips and tools to help operators make the most of being busy and uncovered new strategies to help businesses grow.

According to Moneris data, McHughen said there was a 13-per-cent increase in spend at bars on Super Bowl Sunday compared to the Sunday before, and a 30-per-cent increase year-over-year (YOY). A similar trend was recorded in restaurants with a 17-per-cent lift YOY. Plourde added that overall the number of takeout orders has gone up and the number of orders out for delivery has gone down.

“These insights are so important to track how things are going in a market, how consumers are interacting with restaurants and how operators can use this [data] to their advantage,” said McHughen.

Plourde went on to define omnichannel and what the concept means for restaurants. “Omnichannel is all about creating a consistent brand image for customers both online and in person. Regardless of where they’re ordering, customers should get a consistent brand experience. Restaurant owners can get overwhelmed quickly if they’re trying to be everywhere at the same time. They don’t need to be everywhere at the same time, but they also shouldn’t put all their eggs in one basket. Try a few options and see what works best.”

Plourde highlighted the Order with Google tool that allows operators add a button on their Google profile page that allows customers to order only quickly and conveniently. “If we’re in a new city, we typically take out our phones and type in ‘restaurants near me.’” In fact, Plourde said Google has more than one billion search queries for the search term.

Other strategies included partnering with local third-party delivery services that offer fixed rates so operators can offer the service on their own website and can control the entire customer journey; automating physical tasks to overcome labour shortages, such as self-ordering kiosks; and planning and managing inventory for an influx of orders on special occasions, such as this upcoming Mother’s Day.

Watch for more coverage of the 2023 RC Show in Thursday’s Hospitality Headlines

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