Trends and Popular Topics from the National Restaurant Association Food Show | Brand Education

Conferences are resources for continued education, the restaurant industry’s biggest shows of the year is the National Restaurant Association Food Show commonly referred to as the NRA show – The International Food Service Marketplace. The annual show takes place in Chicago at McCormick place and is a wonderful opportunity to combine the best and brightest minds, products and services related to the food service industry all in one place.

While I usually attend in person, this year I was not able to attend but thanks to Twitter, friends and contacts who attended I was able to take advantage of staying in the loop, while well not being technically in the loop. Over the years, the NRA has done a nice job of integrating new media into the conference programming from an app that can help guide you around the showroom floor and highlight educational breakout sessions to promoting content on Twitter with a dedicated hashtag, #NRAshow.

A special thank you should go out to Ron Ruggless, a great follow on Twitter @RonRuggless and an awesome resource for restaurant related content. To appreciate the volume of activity check out his, Social Media Special Coverage.

If you enjoy watching videos, check out these videos form the NRA Show, here.

As you can see even though I was not physically in attendance I was still able to pick up on hot topics and trends including some of the below highlights:

A highlight of the Top 10 Culinary Trends at the 2013 NRA Show:

  1. Last year’s top trend of healthier options for kids meal continues to trend upward, you can see in my recap from last year’s NRA Show: Healthier Kids Meals Steals the Show
  2. Glad to see the continued education of Gluten-Free options, there is still a long way to go to fully service the Celiac Community. Much of what restaurants need to know about Gluten-Free center on understanding cross-contamination and the fears and concerns of diners who follow a Gluten-Free lifestyle.

    Did someone say Starbucks?

  3. Did someone say Starbucks? Howard Shultz CEO of Starbuck’s handled the Keynote address on Sunday to a jam packed crowd.
  4. Flavor Profiles include a bit of the tropics with Mango, Guava, Passion Fruit and Coconut leading the charge. In fact those same profiles are making there way into another popular trend, Flavored Iced Teas. And, don’t forget about Hot Tea, where Coffee Overkill Has Marketers rethinking hot beverages.
  5. Sticking with healthy food choices the “Super-Foods” that will be popular this coming year include, Herring an Omega-3 rich fish, the above mentioned Tropical fruit flavors, plus century old spices with healing powers such as cinnamon, turmeric and cayenne pepper. Even McDonald’s is getting in on the Super-Food highway.

Special thanks to Bret Thorn @foodwriterdiary for writing the list for NRN.   

Technology continues to play an increased role in the food industry. Social media as well as online are changing how restaurant brands reach out to consumers by marketing them more cost effectively, some of which are highlighted here 13 Things Restaurant Brands Need To Do in 2013. Restaurant brands of all sizes have an opportunity to compete with larger chains with bigger marketing budgets by Turn to Mobile Apps for Marketing touch-points. A trend that takes this idea one step further is combining Social Media, Local and Mobile Marketing, known as SoLoMo.

Speaking of Social Media the timeliness of perhaps, one of the best examples of how not to react on Social Media played out across Facebook, Yelp, Twitter, Reddit and of course on the floor of the trade show. If there is one take-away from this Kitchen Nightmare (literally) it is that Social Media can be a very powerful and effective marketing tool for restaurants. However, it should be used cautiously and it is often best to leave this to professionals for strategy, guidance and best practices.

Technology is also effecting the guest experience in new and fun ways, from finding a table to ordering their food and even paying for those meals. Technology has always been about making things easier, the balance for the restaurant industry is to find a way to use technology to enhance the customer experience without losing a person touch and making dining cold and inpersonal.

On a positive front the team at reported that there was a sense of optimism from investors with a renewed confidence in the stability of the industry. That is news that we should all be glad to hear.

Now it’s your turn to share your findings and thoughts on this year’s show in the comments below, helpful articles and links are welcome. For my restaurant industry trends that I missed this year, my apologizes but hope to see you next May 17-20th at McCormick Place in Chicago.

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