Top Trends Seen at the NRA

On May 16, 2015, Corporate Executive Chef, Eamon Lee and Maines VP of Sales, Guy Zehner were amongst the 44,000+ foodservice professionals to attend the 2015 National Restaurant Association (NRA) Show held in Chicago, IL. Over the course of four days, hundreds of celebrity chefs and exhibitors showcased their predicted trends and new items for the upcoming year.

Chef Eamon Lee and Guy Zehner share their major takeaways from the NRA Show:

Q.) What were the top 3 trends seen at the show?

A.) Millennials was a major topic seen consistently throughout the show. How they eat, when they eat, and what they’re looking for in their dining establishments.

Another trend was drinks and drink machines. Soda is not leading the way anymore as a top beverage choice. Health conscious customers are rising and they are choosing teas, coffees, flavored water, and lemonades. Restaurants are looking for profitability items- not only mixed drinks and wild cocktails – but with tea. With such a high margin item, you can’t afford to not try something new with your restaurant when it comes to beverages. We have a customer who makes specialty teas. They sold 18 gallons of strawberry tea in a single business day. Mixed drinks and cocktails continue to be money-making items for restaurants as well. This year, an entire part of the McCormick Center was dedicated to the Bar Section focusing on products and menu pairings.

A final trend that stood out was the rise of the modern kitchen. Hot kitchens are going away. Efficient kitchen technology is coming and coming fast. We had the opportunity to be educated about some of the new pieces of equipment and saw how they are used from different exhibitors throughout the show floor. Why would anyone be interested in getting away from the old kitchen, with turn nozzles that you have to turn off and a oven you have to preheat? Efficiency, and opportunity cost is why. Restaurants need to reduce their labor, expenses, utility costs, and that’s exactly what they can achieve with the new equipment we saw at the NRA.

Q.) Which food trends specifically should restaurant owners be getting familiarized with to stay ahead of the competition?

A.) Cooking Sous Vide. If a customer is throwing away a lot of their protein they may want to look into Sous Vide technology.  This method will cut down on restaurant waste significantly. There were several options of sous vide water ovens and vacuum sealers and knowledgeable exhibitors to answer attendees questions.

As for trends with food specifically, specialty produce really stood out at this year’s show. Heirloom produce, truffles, also mushrooms as a main course. We are predicting that duck and lamb will be returning – especially on fall menus.

Q.) Did you attend any seminars? What did you learn?

A.) I attended a seminar about trends. The first slide of the presentation that I saw read “Back to the Basics.” That is the same message Maines has been sharing with our customers all year. People are going back to authentic, clean, real cooking. I saw a case study during that presentation that shared this bakery who always made their pies with lard. Once they openly started marketing and advertising that they indeed used lard, the bakery’s business went through the roof. Believe it or not, lard is popular right now!  Also, I learned that Grandma was right and that chicken soup is the way to go. Broth is the biggest thing out there right now because of the popularity of ramen and specialty soups.

Q.) Is there anything else that you will be sharing with customers about what you saw the 2015 NRA Show?

A.) Desserts are even going back to the basics. We saw ice cream sandwiches, short bread and peanut butter cookies served between pistachio, lemon, or vanilla ice cream. In a jar is has become a trend as well. Nutella chocolate mousse with homemade chocolate cookies served in a jar was one of the desserts that caught our attention.