Trendspotting at the Restaurant Show

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Three years have passed since the National Restaurant Association Show was last held at Chicago’s McCormick Place, and it’s reflected in the aisles and conversations among food industry professionals. At almost every turn of the event from May 21 to 24, visitors encountered products and solutions that catered as much to consumer tastes and preferences as they did to the acute needs of operators.

Given the increasingly broad omnichannel and recent shifts – some seismic – in consumer habits and industry technologies, there are significant spillovers from the restaurant business to the retail sector. . Whether or not they have strong retail restaurant programs, grocers should consider the trends seen at the National Restaurant Association’s 2022 event.

Personalization through automation

Consumer demand for customization and business need for automation in times of labor shortages are converging towards systems that allow people to make their own product choices without significant change or even any need employees. For example, at The Coca-Cola Co.’s booth, trade show attendees lined up to choose coffee drinks at Costa Coffee. Coca-Cola acquired Costa in 2019 and developed a self-service espresso machine called Costa Smart Café that allows consumers to order hot or cold drinks. The next-generation compact vending machine, which can be added to in-store cafes or coffee bars, complements other options for retail catering settings, including an in-store counter solution for hot coffee that can be operated by consumers or by an associate of a grocery store or cafe. Both digital systems provide data to help grow coffee sales.

“It measures 3 feet by 3 feet by 74 inches and gives us 250 different drink combinations, all based on fresh beans and fresh milk. That’s 100 glasses before human intervention – once every 24 hours,” said Tim Warner, General Manager of Costa Coffee US. “The counter version offers the same great range and is also modular, so you have great coffee in a small footprint that gives you flexibility. between service and self-service.

Coca-Cola showed off its other vending machines with a personal touch, including an updated version of its Freestyle system for those with background operations and an advance ordering solution that lets shoppers choose a drink online and collect it when they arrive in store. In addition to Coca-Cola, other vendors have also spotlighted their automatic drink makers, such as Botrista, a start-up specializing in cold craft drinks that can be made via presets or ordered to order. Varieties included salted caramel latte, mango iced tea, and passion fruit green tea with an immunity boost.

Robots are busy

In addition to automated systems for custom orders, the impact of labor shortages was evident at other exhibits at the National Restaurant Association event. Judging by the number of people recording videos of these screens, the robots go beyond a novelty attraction to a problem-solving solution. Tech company Nala Robotics has showcased its AI and ML-powered robots – aka “multi-kitchen chefs” – which can be used in a cloud-based kitchen to prepare a plethora of recipes, from fries to pasta. Pudu Robotics has also caught the eye with its food delivery robots; this company also markets cleaning robots and robots with AI voice interaction that can be used as a reception or advertising service. A robotic sushi-making system also showed that the future is now when it comes to automated tasks.

Planet Packaging

Take-out retailers prepared foods and beverages have a legion of more eco-friendly packaging options, if the show was any indication. Following the take-out wave of the pandemic years and amid continued demand for sustainable packaging, several companies, such as Minima and Bio Livin’, introduced their sustainable take-out containers and cups. The collective push to reduce single-use plastics has also been illustrated by the number of sustainably produced or obtained products such as straws, utensils, bags and cups.

On the product side, Coca-Cola – which aims to use at least 50% recycled material in its packaging by 2030 – shared its new bottle made from 100% recycled material. In June, most bottles in the Dasani range will switch to this rPET material. The company also works with food service operators and grocers with restaurant operations on reusable cups, including those emblazoned with messaging that reinforces climate and waste messaging.

Alternative proteins take center stage

Many visitors picked up samples of traditional meat products, including beef and pork from Two Rivers and bacon from Nueske, two companies that also have a portfolio of retail products. That said, there was a bigger-than-ever range of plant-based brands on display at this year’s restaurant show, vying for attention and representing a growing share of the protein market, both at home and on the go. outside. There was the sizzle of plant-based bacon prepared by Hooray Foods, plant-based poultry look-alikes from Daring Chicken, alternative sausages from Impossible Foods, a new steak format from Beyond Meat, seafood-based plants from Good Catch and Finless Foods, Hormel-style pepperoni toppings from Happy Little Plants and more. The popularity of seafood, which has accelerated during the pandemic, is another harbinger of the global expansion of the protein market beyond traditional red and white meats; in the restaurant lounge, visitors ate salmon hot dogs and learned about sustainable fishing in all US and international waters.

Color and flavor intensify

Pandemic-era cabin fever could be a driver, and photo-driven social media is certainly a catalyst. Either way, it’s clear that color and flavor are intensifying as we enter a turbulent 2020s. From vibrant Fanta dragon fruit and cheerful cans of Coca-Cola’s Aquas Frescas to macarons and mochi in a veritable palette of hues, the products that stand out on the shelf also stand out in consumer choices. In addition to product colors and packaging, flavors continue to get bolder, reflected in new varieties of seasonings from brands like Tony Chachere’s and new adult beverages and no/low alcohol beverages from brands like White Claw and Big Drop Brewing Co, among dozens of others.

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