TORONTO — Healthful foods, energy-efficient equipment and a rare WACS-endorsed culinary competition were draws at the CRFA Show, held from March 2 to 4 at the Direct Energy Centre in Toronto. The yearly gathering spotlighted the association’s rebranding as Restaurants Canada.
Among the food exhibitors, many offered products made with healthful ingredients or less allergens, such as Kimberley’s Own wheat-free, soy-free, corn-free, dairy-free and vegan gourmet cereals. There was also innovative takes on health food, with the showing of the “world’s first” natural sparkling coconut water. The trend toward health and sustainability continued at Club Coffee where Rino Carbone, director of Sales, talked about the value of Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee and previewed the roaster’s new single-cup pods for the Keurig. “You can serve a dark roast, and then with this [single-serve] coffee, expand your menu,” said Carbone, explaining how restaurateurs can save money and coffee with the company’s six single-cup blends.
The showroom floor was also home to marketing companies that demonstrated new ways to drive customer loyalty. Brampton, Ont.-based GuestEngine showed its smartphone-based MyRewards program, which allows operators to give customers points for purchases, sharing offers on their social networks or giving referrals. It also integrates with the restaurant’s POS system, to show visitation frequency, menu item consumption and average check.
Regional exhibitors returned to the show, including an expansive Mexico pavilion; an Illinois pavilion, which housed Italian specialty foods, chef uniforms and all-natural seitan (a vegan meat alternative); as well as an Ontario pavilion, which hosted local farms, distributors and distillers. Patti Thompson, director of Sales and Marketing for the Newmarket, Ont.-based King Cole Ducks, which was offering samples of its fully cooked, pulled duck meat, says her company returns to the show each year to come face to face with consumers. “Our purpose today is to share our story,” she says. “It’s a chance to connect with people again, not only with our distributors here as well, but oftentimes we don’t know who is getting our duck … We are here in the Ontario pavilion to let people know we have great food, here in our own backyard.”
Meanwhile, off the showroom floor seminars on everything from marketing to POS Technology and profitable dessert innovations offered guests take-home information. Operators learned to hone their unique voice through branding in a seminar by Jean-Pierre Lacroix, president of the Toronto-based Shikatani Lacroix design firm, who worked with Restaurants Canada to develop its new brand identity. For restaurateurs interested in defining their value proposition, Lacroix presented two key questions: “If your company is no longer in business, what will your customers say they miss about you?” and “If your offering is $2 more than your competitor, how, in the mind of the consumer, can they justify the price?”
Other events brought novice and professional culinary champions to the culinary stage at a rare WACS-endorsed competition, hosted by the CCFCC Toronto Branch, The Escoffier Society of Toronto and the CCFCC Oakville Branch. Four Best-in-Show winners were announced, including Rachelle Goulet, Pastry (Novice), Fanshawe College; Jonathon Brum, Culinary (Novice), Cirillo’s Culinary Academy; Kevin Francisco, Pastry (Professional) Old Firehall Confectionery; and Raffaele Ventrone, Culinary (Professional) Cirillo’s culinary academy.