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Our 5 Takeaways from the National Restaurant Show

One of our favorite industry events is the National Restaurant Association Show (NRA) in Chicago. It’s always a hotspot for the latest and greatest in the foodservice industry, and this year was no exception. Here are five key trends that foodservice marketers need to pay attention to if they want to stay ahead of the curve.

1. Equipment and Technology Were More Prominent Than Food

The future of foodservice is here, and it’s tech-savvy. Whether it was robots serving food, automated cooking stations or advanced POS systems, the show floor was brimming with innovative equipment designed to streamline operations and enhance customer experiences. And while we were captivated by the technology, we missed seeing some top food companies that have always had a strong presence at the show. Our takeaway: there’s a much greater opportunity to stand out as a food manufacturer than even a few years ago.

Avocados from Mexico interactive menu ai display at the 2024 NRA show

2. AI Put to Practical Use

Artificial intelligence has moved from being a buzzword to a practical tool within the industry. From AI-driven menu recommendations to predictive ordering systems that reduce food waste, the practical applications of AI were front and center. Avocados from Mexico leveraged the technology well with an interactive display that allowed attendees to see AI-recommended avocado-centered menu enhancements for numerous restaurants around the country — and see how they would score with consumers.

3. Plant-Based No Longer a Differentiator

Once a unique offering, the choices in plant-based options have grown substantially. Whether it was alternative options for meats, eggs or cheese, vegan and vegetarian choices were everywhere. Foodservice marketers should emphasize the unique aspects and superior taste of their plant-based items, showcasing them as delicious choices that appeal to all customers. And, like any product category that is maturing, the messaging needs to change to reflect the key benefits and attributes beyond just plant-based.

Collage of plant based items on the Impossible brand tradeshow display
Kraft Heinz tradeshow booth interactive display

4. Experiential = Memorable

Not everyone has the budget of some large foodservice manufacturers, but when you can create an experiential booth experience that ties into your product offerings, you can really shine. Kraft Heinz hit it out of the park with their food court experience that showcased their brands in various operation types, from Grab ‘n Go to a sports bar to FSR. In addition, they offered personalized experiences with custom-named ketchup bottles and a chance to name your own life-size ketchup, mustard, mayo or BBQ sauce for a fun photo op and social media share.

5. Sweet Heat

The flavor trend of combining sweetness with a touch of heat was impossible to miss — and being used in everything from sauces to baked goods to snacks. Beyond hot honey, we saw a variety of flavor profiles like Tajin-seasoned cupcakes and Thai honey curry pretzels. Foodservice marketers can capitalize on this trend by introducing new products or recipe ideas featuring sweet heat and promoting them through engaging, flavor-focused campaigns.

Did you attend the NRA show this year? We’d love to hear what trends you noticed!

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