Foodservice operators were largely looking for convenient, affordable ways to respond to shifting consumer demands during the National Restaurant Show, exhibitors reported. Many of those solutions had to do with health and bolder flavors, but new technology — from denser potatoes to miniature coffee roasters — also were allowing for new solutions in other areas as well.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the hottest trends seen on the trade show floor:
1. Healthy kids’ food. With new school nutritional guidelines in effect, many exhibitors had reworked their products to fit those standards, including baked snack chips made with whole grains, whole wheat crackers and granola clusters.
2. Tropical flavors. Passion fruit, guava and especially mango were prominently on display, particularly flavoring iced teas and desserts. Coconut was on many desserts, too, possibly benefiting from the popularity of coconut water, which was being handed out on Sunday to attendees using the free shuttles to get to McCormick Place from downtown Chicago.
3. Water. “We said if we did this long enough, we’d make water concentrate,” one veteran exhibitor said, and indeed, zero-calorie “enhanced waters,” fortified with vitamins, were on display, and some were sold in concentrate. Water filtration systems, seltzer with splashes of fruit juice, aloe water and just plain bottled water (touting unique origins, of course), also were on the trade show floor.
4. Iced Tea. This expanding beverage segment was at the show in force, often with tropical flavors, as well as peach. But some companies worked to decommodify their offerings by giving place names to their tea flavors, like “Pacific Raspberry” and “Georgia Peach.”
Peruvian, caramel and more
5. Greek yogurt 2.0. Of course Greek yogurt has taken the country by storm, but it was being used as an ingredient at the show for products such as Greek yogurt cheesecake, spinach-artichoke dip, mac and cheese, and virtually anything that would otherwise contain mayonnaise or sour cream.
6. Gluten free. Virtually every food purveyor except for the bread companies had something that was gluten free, and exhibitors said it remained an important concern for visitors who were shopping for sauces, snacks and desserts. Even potato and corn chip suppliers, whose products are naturally gluten-free, were touting that fact in their signage.
7. High-tech convenience. One company was selling soufflé mix that puffed up in just a few minutes, thanks to new technologies for dehydrating eggs and encapsulating cocoa butter. Another was pushing Dakota Diamonds, a new high-density potato that can be thinly sliced and, without soaking or blanching, cooked into a potato chip in three minutes. Another company had a miniature chocolate factory that allowed restaurants to roast, grind and conch their chocolate in-house.
8. Salted caramel. This dessert trend was widespread at the show, available in ice creams, on cheesecake and candies.
9. Peruvian. The country of Peru exhibited its wares at the National Restaurant Show for the first time this year, with everything in place to take the world by storm. PeruvianRicardo Zarate of Mo-Chica and Picca restaurants in Los Angeles was at the booth serving beef tartare with aji amarillo leche de tigre, anticuchos made with artichokes imported from Brazil, and quinoa tossed with feta cheese, miso and patty pan squash. Visitors also were treated to cocktails made from the national alcohol of Peru, pisco. Stuffed corn cakes called arepas, which come from Peru and its neighbors, were available at other booths.
10. Superfoods. Spice merchants at the show said visitors were interested in the healing qualities of cinnamon, turmeric and cayenne pepper; teas were flavored with blueberry, pomegranate and açaí, and seafood purveyors said there was renewed interest in herring, a fish high in omega-3 oils.