June 2, 2011

NRA Show Recap

The 2011 National Restaurant Association Hotel-Motel Show was held at Chicago’s McCormick Place from May 21-24. Thousands of exhibitors polished and shined their booths and cooked up samples for hungry attendees. And tens of thousands of hungry attendees walked the tradeshow floor for 4 solid days while they packed away those samples.

Attendance was up this year and it was noticeable on the crowded show floor. A number of exhibitors we talked to were having a fabulous show, although there were also some who had less than ideal booth locations who hadn’t seen the best foot traffic.

Highlights from the show floor:

Food Trends:

  • Tea was hot (and cold): Iced and hot tea was abundant! (It was great to wash down some of the pies we sampled.)
  • Gluten-free, which has seen a couple years of growth, shows no sign of stopping. It was everywhere.

Most over-used word: Solutions. Everyone is touting that they sell solutions to operators’ problems. Please don’t use this word in your marketing materials. You’ll only get lost in the crowd.

Best Booth: Coca-Cola. You couldn’t miss this hot-spot of activity. Their booth was abuzz with excitement every time we passed by. They had incredible graphics and an engaging live performer touting their latest and greatest – the Coca-Cola Freestyle dispenser. The Freestyle dispenser is a touch screen kiosk that allows patrons to choose their own soda flavor from 125 options and dispense right in front of them. There was a huge line at NRA to get a taste and we must say – tried it… loved it!

Biggest Growth Area: Technology. This pavilion has grown significantly in recent years. Online ordering systems, customer loyalty solutions, mobile apps, Groupon and more!

After walking for hours and sampling more sandwiches, baked goods and appetizers than should be legal, we wrapped up our day with a soda and a quick flight home. We wonder what next year’s hot new items will be! Any bets?

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