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Every year, the National Restaurant Association Show rolls into Chicago’s McCormick Place to show off thousands of innovative tips, tools, and trends available for restaurant operators to use in building their business back home.
This year was no different. From 3D food printers to sustainable packaging options and more healthful menu development ideas, the new opportunities showcased during the show gave attendees a glimpse into an exciting world of possibility.
QSR’s team of writers covered the floor at the 2015 NRA Show, getting the scoop on which insights might best help quick-service restaurant operators get a leg up on their competition. Here’s a run-down of our coverage from the show floor.
Technology has been playing an ever-larger role at the show, with a wide range of products and services that help restaurant operators become more efficient and effective. This years they ranged from point-of-sale systems and digital signs to mobile payment and apps—even a 3D printer that creates intricate confections.
When it comes to building a buzz-worthy brand—one with the food and business model to warrant such hype—there is no single mandate that fits all companies. That’s what Aaron Noveshen, founder of the consulting firm The Culinary Edge, told an audience at the NRA Show during his panel “From Main Street to Wall Street: Secrets behind America’s Great Growing Brands.”
For the restaurant industry, sustainability encompasses a wide range of categories: food sourcing, water and energy conservation, design, packaging, composting, recycling, eliminating certain additives and chemicals, and preventing food waste. New products and ideas were displayed and discussed on the NRA Show floor, but also in chef demonstrations and educational sessions to help restaurant operators become greener.
As a third-generation butcher on both sides of her family, Kari Underly sees her profession not as a trade so much as a craft. When she met Megan O’Connor last year, the two realized that the foodservice world was sorely lacking in a training program to close gaps left by the decline in apprenticeships. That’s why the pair founded Muscolo Meat Academy late last year.
There are several growing trends that have joined the American culinary landscape in recent years, including the locavore movement, ethical eating, and food purity that ranges from organic ingredients to those free of GMOs, pesticides, and gluten. Now some say these trends all fit into an even larger megatrend called “enlightened eating,” one being led by higher-educated, high-income consumers.
Though today’s restaurants operate in an increasingly complex and competitive environment, foodservice establishments remain visible and important cornerstones in communities across the U.S. NRA CEO Dawn Sweeney joined Huffington Post Media Group president Arianna Huffington during the keynote program to discuss how restaurant industry leaders are achieving the American Dream while simultaneously providing others a pathway to reach theirs.
The improved economy and continuing growth of the restaurant industry helped spark a sense of optimism and enthusiasm that seemed to permeate the show floors at the annual NRA Show. The addition of another exhibit area this year seemed to make the show less crowded, even though attendance was at least as large as last year. And there were several more specialty pavilions, along with many new exhibitors, products, and concepts.