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The farm-to-table movement was spotlighted in a panel titled “Behind the Menu: A Candid Food Dialogue with Farmers, Ranchers and Restaurant Operators,” sponsored by the United States Farmers and Ranchers Alliance.

Panelists noted that consumer interest in the source of food on restaurant menus is increasing, especially with chains like Chipotle Mexican Grill taking a stand on the labeling of genetically modified ingredients, or GMOs, and criticizing practices like the use of growth hormones and antibiotics in meat production.

Marley Hodgson, founder of the healthful concept Mad Greens, based in Denver, said Chipotle’s recent video, titled “The Scarecrow,” prompted some soul searching. “As operators, it’s difficult to know which trends to respond to. I think GMOs will be a big one,” he said.

“What’s exciting is that the public actually cares again,” Hodgson added. “We need to do our part in educating and not washing.”

Ignite's Ray Blanchette accepts the award for Operator of the YearHowever, Katie Pratt, an Illinois farmer, said the GMO issue is not top of mind among farmers. She has opposed GMO-labeling legislation in Illinois and — as a mother and a farmer — feels comfortable with the use of genetically modified seeds and technology on her farm because they’ve been able to cut the use of pesticides in half.

What’s next for beef

In a panel called “Beef Economic Forecast & Outlook: What’s Ahead,” Mike Miller, senior vice president, global marketing and research for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, predicted that corn prices in 2014 will be about half of what they were last year, and that trend will translate to lower prices for beef. By 2015 or 2016, restaurant operators will start seeing more favorable beef pricing, he said during the session sponsored by The Beef Checkoff.

Meanwhile, the beef industry is working hard to capture Millennials with marketing that includes bolder flavor profiles and innovative cuts, Miller said. One example appeared later at MUFSO at a dinner reception, where the The Beef Checkoff booth featured a “beef sundae” with chunks of barbecued flatiron, mashed potatoes, cherry tomatoes, green onions and Pop Rocks candy.

Celebrating success

Industry executives share tips for success at this year's CEO PanelConference attendees also took time out to celebrate brands that are achieving success during this period of slow economic recovery during events such as the Hot Concepts celebration and the Industry Awards Gala.

Honorees also shared their strategies for success during the Hot Concepts Panel and CEO Panel.

MUFSO also helped raise money for a charitable cause and sparked some friendly competition during the Texas Pete Kitchen Hero Cook Off. For the competition, chefs were challenged to create dishes using Texas Pete hot sauces.

The winner of this year’s Texas Pete Kitchen Hero Cook Off was Jim Doak, vice president, menu innovation and corporate chef for Ignite Restaurant Group, who created an appetizer with pimiento cheese toast with crispy black-eyed peas and pickled kale. He used Texas Pete Garlic Hot Sauce and Texas Pete Chipotle Hot Sauce.

Doak’s prize was a $10,000 donation made in his name to Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign.

Next year’s MUFSO SuperShow is scheduled for Sept. 28–30 at the Hyatt Regency at Reunion Tower in Dallas.

Contact Lisa Jennings at lisa.jennings@penton.com.
Follow her on Twitter: @livetodineout