An abundance of positivity and growth at NRA Show 2015

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With projections for 2015 industry sales at $709 billion, the US restaurant business is performing well post-recession. With an estimated 65,000 visitors coming through its doors this week, the 2015 NRA Show in Chicago reflected that positivity, reports Michael Jones

On the evidence of the 2015 National Restaurant Association Hotel & Motel (NRA) Show at McCormick Place in Chicago this week, the US restaurant business is in very rude health. An estimated 65,000 operators, exhibitors, consultants and manufacturers attended the show, backing up NRA’s recent report that cited US industry sales will hit $709.2 billion this year, or 4% of US gross domestic product, employing 14 million Americans in the process.

“Restaurant operators are solidly optimistic,” said Hudson Riehle, from NRA’s research and knowledge group, adding NRA’s Restaurant Performance Index currently sits on 102.2, the level the association says indicates an expansion mode for the sector.

For this year’s show, NRA expanded the show floor space to accommodate an increasing level of exhibitors, estimating that it will have taken 9.5 miles of walking for attendees to see all the exhibits.

New features included “Startup Alley” where startup restaurant technology companies demonstrated products and services and the Show’s expanded Tech Pavilion, taking in mobile payment and engagement and Apple Pay.

Presentations throughout addressed how operators can successfully implement technology into their restaurant and hot topics such as “the internet of things” – how devices using the Internet can communicate with each other. A 3D printing zone at the Show was supported by Culinary Institute of America and equipment supplier 3D Systems, showcasing new 3D food printing equipment.

Keynote speaker Arianna Huffington, president and editor-in-chief of Huffington Post Media Group, gave a presentation on how today’s business leaders can develop and nurture successful brands in an increasingly complex and competitive environment and also took part in a stimulating Q&A session with NRA’s CEO Dawn Sweeney. NRA chairman Jack Crawford also delivered a captivating speech addressing the “State of the American Dream 2015”.

Environmental sustainability was a key focus at the show, with new products on display and featuring heavily in chef demonstrations on the show floor. “I saw numerous things that provide value to our clients, but what really caught my attention were the items that are being developed with energy efficiencies and a real commitment to energy conservation. There also seems to be a renewed commitment to quality and value. That’s refreshing,” said consultant Ken Schwartz FCSI.

“Following the energy of the NAFEM show and FCSI Symposium there appears to be a new sense of commitment to the needs of the end users, our clients.” Schwartz added.

The feedback from consultants who attended the show was overwhelmingly positive. “I have attended the show for 56 consecutive years through thick and thin on four different sites. My three days walking the aisles simply reminded me that I could not do it without regular attendance and interface with NRA. One can never learn it all, but NRA puts just about as much as there is on the floor to observe, contemplate, dissect, and take home those thoughts and ideas that will improve my performance, and as a result, my business,” said William V. Eaton FCSI, chairman of the Board at Cini-Little International, Inc and a founding judge of NRA Show’s Kitchen Innovation (KI) awards. “I retired just a couple weeks ago after 58 years in the kitchen design business and as I think of the growth, the economic swings and the sheer magnitude of the reach that NRA now has, I am amazed. More exhibits, more new and innovative products to see.”

NRA is a “special” show, says Eaton, because of “the depth and breadth of the show itself with the combination of all products. In addition the central location is a great advantage to the entire industry and the size itself give it the balance to be just about everything to everyone, and that is always a challenge.”

That’s a sentiment FCSI The Americas Division (TAD) chair William Taunton FCSI wholly agrees with. “NRA has always been the show to be in when you talk about foodservice. Most of our members locally in the US and from overseas go to this show.

“For several years now, this show is also the time in which our Upper Midwest Chapter meeting takes place, and has become the party to go to for consultants and our Allied members. This year was no exception and the number of people that participated was again greater than last year. At the show booth and the party we received hundreds of people. That is the way to spread the FCSI name in our industry. More and more people are interested in FCSI, what we do and how we can help our industry. I love it.”

FCSI’s presence at the show was a big success this year, agrees Wade Koehler, executive director of FCSI The Americas Division. “The NRA Show is truly a full global show. We had attendees stopping by from all over the globe this year. As this was our first year as a stand-alone booth in 10 years, FCSI TAD had great brand exposure partnering along with MAFSI and CFESA in our aisle. The traffic was steady and the Upper Midwest Chapter networking event on Sunday night hosted over 250 industry professionals at the Godfrey Hotel’s Urban Roofscape.”

Jeff Couch of Preferred Marketing Group and MAFSI concurs. “Alongside CFESA, and FCSI, we proudly exhibited shoulder to shoulder as a symbol of our combined resources, all working to make the industry better. Additionally, on Sunday, we held an All Industry Allied Association meeting with the presidents and executive directors of CFESA, FCSI, FEDA, and NAFEM. The sharing and collaboration at this meeting was incredible.”

William Eaton, founding judge for the Kitchen Innovation awards 11 years ago, was “particularly impressed” with the calibre of entries for the KI Awards this year. “The whole KI process is aggressive, probing, sometimes difficult, and always an immensely satisfying annual project that takes almost eight months to complete. We have an amazing team of judges and terrific support all the way through from the NRA staff. It is one of the most enjoyable responsibilities afforded to me. I was completely satisfied and proud of every selection we made.”

True Food Service Equipment, Inc was one of the KI winners this year for their use of natural refrigerant (R290) and, according to Craig Volcovici of True’s consultant & design services team, NRA served as another great opportunity to showcase this advancement in refrigeration systems. “This NRA was especially valuable as we won the Kitchen Innovations award,” he says. “That was an honour to win due to our company’s huge investment in the future of commercial self-contained refrigeration. We pride ourselves on our social responsibility efforts and understand that the world is ever changing.”

NRA 2015 was also “a great show” for fellow KI award winners, Hobart who scooped the prize for their innovative Hobart FT1000 flight-type dish machine. “The Kitchen Innovations award is a very special award for Hobart and the ITW Food Equipment Group. The Kitchen Innovations area gives us a chance to showcase a product which we have been developing for a long time,” says Shayne Varnum, LEED GA, national sales manager, consultant services & higher education at Hobart-Traulsen-Baxter. This provides a unique area for the public to see the huge benefits to them in critical areas of water and energy savings, enhanced energy efficiency, and the impact these savings have on their operations and the environment.”

Michael Jones