NRA 2022 – Trends Driving the Restaurant Industry Recovery

CHICAGO – Food and beverage service suppliers showcased their latest innovations at the National Restaurant Show, held in Chicago from May 21-24. Spread among the Windy City’s established brands, such as Vienna Beef, Eli’s Cheesecake and Grecian Delight, restaurant operators from around the world have been sampling products that speak to consumer trends while mitigating the difficulties facing the industry in terms of employment and the economy.

“There is great food all over the world, and we have barely scratched the surface,” Diaa Ahmed, senior director of dining services at The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, said during a session on food trends.

In terms of menu innovation, Dave Hincks, Senior Manager, and Lizzie Fryer, Menu Research and Insights, both with Chicago-based Technomic, discuss how to “manage business and delight guests” using the five “Ps.” The first “p” is the axis. This involves rethinking the menu without adding too many new ingredients. One approach, Ms Fryer said, is to bring new flavors to dishes or create a mix of “the known and the unknown”.

Mr. Henkes said the average number of items on restaurant menus has decreased over the past several years, as COVID has forced restaurants to streamline offerings to focus on items that drive revenue and do better for takeout and delivery. At the same time, limited-time offers were on the rise.

“Restaurants are trying to do more with less,” Mr. Hinx added. “This gives consumers something to excite them.”

Tech research shows that 42% of consumers are more likely to try a new or unique flavor from a restaurant than cook at home. Data shows that consumers order new or unique items from restaurants more than 25% of the time.

For operators, this can be accomplished by adding new flavors to the base recipe. Suppliers on the exhibition floor offered shortcuts to help.

MegaMax Foods, a subsidiary of Hormel Foods Corp., Austin, Minnesota, for example, debuted Tres Cocinas pepper pastes. Concentrated pastes come in three sides and are designed to help chefs add authentic flavor to Mexican cuisine. The ancho and pasilla range features hints of dark chocolate and dried fruits. Chipotle pepper paste contains adobo sauce to balance out the smoke and heat. The third offering is made with Guajillo peppers and spices and provides a balanced and slightly sweet flavor with hints of berries.

The second “p”, according to Technomic, is preparation. Mr. Henkes said ongoing supply chain problems are forcing operators to innovate with unique and diverse preparations of the ingredients on hand. This includes everything from freezing a cocktail usually served on rocks to give it a melted texture to roasting vegetables to give them a deeper flavor.

“Sixty-six percent of consumers rate preparation methods, such as grilled, roasted, or stewed, as attractive for flavour,” said Mr. Hinx.

Labor savers also help in preparation. Operators looking for ways to serve up mouth-watering, innovative menus with fewer staff may turn to products like fully-cooked chorizo ​​crumbs, spicy individually-breaded butchered chicken breast, and Belgian-style waffles from Tyson Foods, Springdale and Ark.

Several suppliers offered labor-saving tools in the beverage space, such as premium cocktail mixers for adults and the growing non-alcoholic cocktail category. Robots that make blended alcoholic drinks are becoming more sophisticated, with companies like J&J Snack Foods Corp. and Pennsauken and NJ, building on the Icee and Slush Puppie machines that now serve a range of spirits alongside a basic fruit blend.

Plant proteins are part of the third “p”. It was no surprise that the plant-based meat manufacturers came out in full force on the show floor. Three exhibitors came for the first time from abroad.

WL! It is a concept of vegan eggs.

Yo Foods Ltd. offered Israel-based concept Yo! , a vegan egg concept for operators that comes in two parts – the white and the yolk – enabling the preparation of sunny side up and poaching concepts. The white is made from peas while the yolk is made from chickpeas and is colored with carrot powder.

Next Gen Foods offers chef-designed, vegetarian Tindle Chicken. The company is headquartered in Singapore, and has aggressive expansion plans in the United States. Tindle is a versatile, uncooked product that chefs may shape into everything from pies to balls to slices. It gets its flavor from an ingredient called libby, which is a blend of sunflower oil and natural flavors designed to mimic the fat of chicken.

Israeli food tech company SavorEat has introduced its own robotic chef platform that creates personalized vegan burgers. Using an app, a robotic chef allows diners to customize their pancakes – their protein source and fat content – and cook them in minutes.

Speaking on Food Trends, John Lee, Vice President of Culinary Innovation, Wendy’s, Dublin, Ohio, said the health and wellness of people and the planet will continue to drive innovation in foodservice. He cited the acronym FARM, which stands for fresh, authentic, authentic and minimally processed, as a mantra to follow in product development.

“If you don’t have a product from a culinary point of view, you will fail,” said Mr. Lee.

When it comes to the new plant-based protein offerings on the show floor, he said, “every development gets better.”

In terms of vegan dairy, the good news has been ice cream mix products from several companies, including Ripple Foods, Emeryville, California. The liquid product comes in gallon plastic milk jugs with original flavors and vanilla flavors. Operators may use it in soft serve machines or freeze it in depressor.

The fourth “p” is customization, which is what you get with many of the robot concepts introduced in the show. These robots also assist operators in the event of a labor shortage, enabling them to better focus on the dining experience.

Self-serve menu boards and sophisticated apps put the consumer in the kitchen. These custom dishes allow diners to order something customized to their tastes.

Technomic’s fifth “P” was its forecast going forward. Technomic anticipates that a very basic ingredient – salt – will be a focal point of menu innovations. It will go beyond being a staple to take center stage in cocktails and food.

Ms Fryer said 27% of consumers are now eating more unique types of global foods and drinks than they did in the pre-pandemic period. She cited global flavors to watch that now come from Central America, West Africa and West Asia, where new peppers add spice and nuances to dishes.

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