National Restaurant Association Show 2016 Recap

Each year, the National Restaurant Association hosts the NRA Show, an impressive tradeshow event in the Windy City of Chicago at the McCormick Place convention center. Vendors, buyers and attendees from all over make their way to the show to check out the latest food and beverage trends and technology innovation that is influencing the industry.

Our team had the wonderful opportunity to attend this year’s NRA show. As public relations professionals specializing in food and beverage, it’s important for us to stay on top of trends and technology innovations within the industry.

During the three-day show, we attended a variety of educational sessions, which shared great insights from restaurant CEOs and industry leaders, and walked the tradeshow floors, scoping out up-and-coming brands and checking out what new innovations the established brands were showcasing.

The most fascinating aspect to me (other than getting to see John Taffer from Bar Rescue, of course!) was learning about current menu trends and the factors that are driving them. As consumer attitudes and expectations continue to shift, the food service industry has made major changes to keep up and stay relevant.

Here are the five areas of menu innovation that we took away from the show:

Breakfast all day. More than 50 percent of consumers enjoy breakfast items or dishes during nontraditional times, which has opened major opportunity for menu innovation. McDonald’s has inspired other chains to introduce breakfast items to their menus after its successful all-day breakfast launch earlier this year.

Keep it simple. Consumers are continuing to demand simple ingredients. They are on the hunt for clean foods, free from antibiotics, artificial sweeteners and G.M.O.s. Fast casual concepts like Panera and Chipotle have proved it’s possible to deliver on the promise of clean food.

Diets are dead. The focus for consumers has transitioned from programmed diet regimens to simply eating healthier foods. The real M.V.P. in this movement is the vegetable. Plant-based foods have slowly replaced meat and grains on many menus, and consumers are pleased.

Comfort food returns.  Although research proves consumers are searching for cleaner ingredients, they are also open to a taste of something buttery or fried every once in a while. Consumers aren’t necessarily comfortable with preparing comfort food in their own homes, but they are willing to splurge on a dish that brings back memories while they’re out to eat.

In addition to all of the industry learning we soaked in at the show, we also had the chance to explore Chicago in the evenings. We took a sightseeing speedboat tour on Lake Michigan and a bike ride around Millennium Park. It was an excellent team trip, and we are already looking forward to heading back next year.

Share your thoughts below on these menu trends and your predictions for any new trends in the future!

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