National Restaurant Association Show

There's more to do at the National Restaurant Show than stuff your face with delicious food samples. This is where you can spot trends in the making -- so you can keep your business one step ahead of the competition. Read on to get a sneak peek at the next big things in the foodservice industry.

This year the National Restaurant Association Show in McCormick Place in Chicago, Illinois, drew 73,000 attendees from 50 states and 110 countries, including Randy White, our CEO, and Jolie Stoecklin, our Procurement Director. With 2,140 exhibitors, it took a good three days to walk the floor and check them all out. Also, because many were food suppliers offering samples, you can only eat so many samples a day.

Scenes from the 2007 National Restaurant Association Show
(click photo to start slide show)

We observed several trends at the show. Green and natural are in. There was a significant increase in the number of exhibitors featuring sustainable products and natural and organic foods compared to what was displayed at the 2006 show. The Green Restaurant Products Pavilion had nearly twice the number of exhibitors as last year.

Even equipment suppliers are going green. BioHitech America introduced the BioX, a piece of equipment designed to decompose and dissolve up to 1,500 pounds of organic waste a day. Microorganisms, water and a natural deodorizing chemical made from plant and flower oils are added to the waste to make the compost process work. What leaves the machine is 90 percent water. Just a little bit of organic material remains.

“I think restaurateurs see a green restaurant as a way to differentiate themselves in the marketplace," says Colin Butts, marketing manager for Fabri-Kal, which is based inKalamazoo, Michigan, and manufactures custom and stock thermoformed plastic products. Butts' company offers Greenware, a line of premium cold drink cups and lids. The line is made from NatureWorks Poly Lactic Acid and derived from natural corn materials. According to the company, the product is 100-percent renewable through annual corn harvests and fully compostable in municipal and industrial facilities.

You can find just about everything imaginable and unimaginable at the restaurant show. How about machine that can cut and de-vein thousands of shrimp a minute, or suppliers with hundreds of pepper mills? In terms of food products, there were half a dozen gelato suppliers. The quality of ready baked frozen desserts was amazing. Chocolate drinks continue to be popular. Perhaps the best sampling of all was the chocolate martini.

Sometimes it's the simplest things you wish you'd thought of. Introduced this year by Simple Solutions was a disposable plastic CaterPlate that has a fork, spoon and knife that detach and a recess to hold a wine glass.

Additional reviews of the 2007 National Restaurant Association Show:

NRA Show 2007 attendees got to play with cutting-edge equipment and sample a wide variety of products on the exhibition floor. Watch Rick Tramonto of Tru comment on this year's show and some of the most interesting products featured there: Google video

Monica Eng of the Chicago Tribune describes the top 10 things she discovered at this year's NRA Show. No. 1 was the die-hard loyalty of Starbucks fans, even when other high-quality coffees were being given away for free nearby. Her second revelation was the popularity of Pepsi despite a plethora of healthy drinks. Read more of what she found: Chicago Tribune (free registration)

The influence of Asian and other ethnic cuisines on American restaurant menus was highly apparent to attendees of the 2007 NRA show, some of whom might have sipped a bottled mojito at the Cadbury Schweppes pavilion. Samples of international foods, ranging from Japanese ice cream flavored with Okinawan purple sweet potatoes to Australian barramundi, supported one chef's claim that U.S. food has "gone global." Read Maria Sonnenberg's of Florida Today review of this and other things she found at the show: Florida Today

Many green messages were conveyed at the NRA Show. U.S. restaurants are searching for ways to help the environment. Sustainable products are said to be the "here and now" solution to the environmental problem, and one product maker says he has found a way to minimize food waste. Read more about green restaurant products at the NRA Show: QSR Magazine