Fresh off of the shuttle from the 2022 National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago May 21-24, RCS reflects on our excursion as we joined our peers and partners from across the foodservice industry and discovered exciting new products, innovative equipment, sampled our way from parmesan to pistachios and experienced goods and wares from over 1700 vendors. The Show, the first in two years, counted an attendance of nearly 90,000 entrants, about 30,000 shy of previous years record-number participation.
With a multi-year Show hiatus there was much for attendees to become acquainted with. Innovations that have not benefitted from public exposure took the spotlight as recent times have revealed the necessity to adapt and overcome myriad challenges from labor, supply chain disruptions, shrinking profit margins, customer-friendly tech solutions and safety and sanitation.
Among some of the common themes RCS found at the Show there were four standouts:
Innovative strategies for labor pains are in the mainstream with a heavy focus on scheduling technologies that interface with payroll and Human Resources. Re-entry and second chance hiring provide a new perspective on recruiting and retention. Robotics are filling the void in human labor from the kitchen to the bar and service areas.
Menu trends are arching ever more towards more plant based products from plant based tuna, chicken, pork, beef and bacon! Nut and seed butters slathered their way into several show booths for sampling. Pizza crusts and toppings created with gluten free and vegan products were boundless.
Kitchen equipment innovations focus on automation, efficiency, safety improvements, labor shortages, waste solutions and energy/resource conservation. The latest in cooking technology featured ovens that pair vertical cooking with steam capability in each chamber with up to three independent chambers per oven. These ovens can cook three different foods simultaneously—all at different temperatures, fan speeds, humidity levels and cook times. Think a three-course meal from one oven prepared by one chef. And if that is not impressive enough, it cleans itself, too.
Environmentally friendly products including food safety and sanitation, contactless ordering and pickup technologies that assure ongoing social distancing, recycling and composting products and strategies that align with operators health and environmental missions were a strong presence throughout. Companies are responding to customer demand for products that have a special focus on sustainability and healthfulness including innovations from edible straws, compostable food pouches to door handles that spritz hand sanitizer.
Lest we neglect the Beverage component in Food and Beverage, the Show included a Beverage Room featuring education sessions and demos covering beer and wine sales and inventory, “Instagrammable” adult beverage concoctions, food and beverage pairings, spirit-free cocktail alternatives and new flavors and techniques. Avocado beer, anyone? “On-demand” iced tea, soft drink and cocktail dispensers assure a custom, bespoke drinking experience. Tools designed to guild the lily on tipples featured baseball sized round ice balls, aroma flavor blasters and smoking guns, adding a touch of theater and drama to beverage crafting.
While some vendors and producers have waited patiently since the before-times to debut their goods in person, the overwhelming vibe was excitement and opportunity at this event billed as “a great culinary comeback”. Innovations in out-door dining, carry-out food and beverage, contactless operational strategies-lifelines for struggling operators during extraordinary times- are here to stay. Even with rising operational costs, the optimism and high spirits prevailed. It was great to be together again in hospitality.