NAFEM: Bigger, better and back

NAFEM is the go-to event for the foodservice industry in America and this year’s event in Orlando promises to be the best yet. Our expert editors flag up the pick of the four-day spectacular

Each other year, thousands of foodservice equipment manufacturers, sales reps, engineers, restaurant and foodservice operators, designers, consultants and other members of the foodservice equipment and supplies industry descend on Atlanta, Anaheim, Orlando and other cities around the US for the bi-annual show and expo hosted by the North American Food Equipment Manufacturers association (NAFEM).

In 2011, 18,500 attendees walked the nearly 320,000 sq ft trade show floor of the Orange County Convention Center to learn about new equipment, smallwares, tabletop pieces and related products presented by the more than 500 exhibitors.

“We are expecting similar attendance to 2011 this year,” says Marcia Daudelin, marketing coordinator for the show.

For the last two shows, Orlando has served as the host city and will again this year. But a new contract will move the popular industry event to Anaheim, California in 2015, followed by a return to Orlando. “We hope to start a rotation between the West and East coasts so we don’t exclude any geographic region,” says to Charlie Souhrada, director of member services for NAFEM.

For 40 years the show has grown bigger and better attended each time. “I think coming to NAFEM people are looking for new business perspectives,” Souhrada says. “We have a unique location in the marketplace as an equipment and supply event.” Different from the annual National Restaurant Show in Chicago, NAFEM takes an even stricter, stronger focus on foodservice equipment in particular, catering to manufacturers, dealers, consultants, specifiers, architects, equipment service agents and purchasers in particular. End-users still take up a big chunk of that pie at 31%, spanning all major commercial and non-commercial foodservice segments, including fine, casual and quick-service restaurants and chains, colleges and universities, sports venues, healthcare facilities, business and industry, convenience/retail and more.

In a departure from the last show, The NAFEM Show 2013 introduces and moves around some of the featured events, with a new Thursday night show-opening reception and a pushing back of the all-industry celebration, this year to Saturday night as a book-ender event which will feature popular “Margaritaville” folk singer Jimmy Buffett. This year’s event will also be more casual compared to its black tie, formal dinner predecessors.

While the show doesn’t have a central theme, Souhrada expects some clear top issues and trends to show up this year. “Energy efficiency is still very important, especially for heavy equipment,” he says. “Operators are also saying they need pieces of equipment that are smaller in footprint so they can use them in back-of-the-house kitchens and facilities that are increasingly decreasing in size.”

According to Souhrada, operators are looking for “equipment that is easy for them to use, to train on and that performs a number of functions to switch between breakfast, lunch, dinner and anything in between”.

Since the last show, The NAFEM Data Protocol, a series of standards for the computerisation of foodservice equipment that allow users to monitor and programme their appliances and systems electronically and remotely has also gained ground in popularity, Souhrada says. “It has been an evolutionary process, but more companies seem to be rolling out products based on NDP.” This year, NAFEM plans to roll out NAFEM Data Protocol 3.0, a simpler, more intuitive version with updates resulting from a better understanding of the programmer’s perspective.

Also new this year, NAFEM is introducing a mobile application available for download on your personal computer, smartphone or tablet reader. Exhibitors and attendees can use the app to navigate the expansive show floor, create a schedule, look up events and booth numbers, and even research local restaurants.

The app also allows users to connect with fellow attendees and social media platforms as well as view photos from the show, and exhibitors can use the platform to send alerts and updates and drive traffic to their booth.

The NAFEM Show also offers a host of educational sessions, panels and workshops. “This year we’re doing a unique session on LEED for Foodservice,” Souhrada says. “Greenbuild and other LEED-sponsored events tend to be geared more toward builders and architects. This particular topic was custom-built for the NAFEM audience to help them understand what LEED has to do with foodservice.”

The LEED Basics for Foodservice session will be hosted by Rob Hink, LEED AP BD+C/O&M, principal and senior vice president with The Spinnaker Group, a LEED consulting and commissioning firm; current board member and past president of the US Green Building Council (USGBC) South Florida Chapter.

The half-day workshop, held on Wednesday, 6 February from 1-5 pm, will provide an overview of the LEED for Retail Rating System with a focus on credits unique to restaurants and foodservice.

There will also be some discussion on LEED for New Construction and LEED for Commercial Interiors rating systems. In addition, a certified ServSafe® instructor from the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association (FRLA) will lead those requiring necessary food safety certification hours through two, half-day segments, on Wednesday 6 February and Thursday 7 February, from 8am-1 pm.

Professionals can also sign up and sit for the Certified Foodservice Professional (CFSP) exam to earn the coveted designation.

FCSI The Americas at NAFEM

For several years, FCSI-The Americas has hooked up with the NAFEM show to offer members a more consultant-focused series of speakers, educational and networking opportunities.

This year, executive director Wade Koehler (pictured) tried to do something different in terms of topics. “Every two years I struggle with what topics to choose for the annual and NAFEM conferences that will be different from what we cover during our more frequent regional conferences,” Koehler says. But ‘trends’ seems to always be the popular topic. Since NAFEM occurs every two years, there’s usually enough time to develop new ideas.

“People come to find out from operators especially what the trends are and what they are looking for,” Koehler says. “This year, we decided to include a representative from different segments of the foodservice industry.”

This year’s speakers include Mark Freeman, senior manager of global employee services for Microsoft and current Society for Foodservice Management (SFM) president; Beth Yesford, director of food and nutrition for Providence Hospital and current president of the Association for Healthcare Foodservice (AHF); Storm Hodge, University of Washington’s assistant director and president of the National Association of College & University Food Services (NACUFS), and Mary Esther Treat, founder of Ideas Well Done, a trends and communication think tank who will talk about general equipment and industry trends, along with a yet-to-be-determined chef or other restaurant representative. Each speaker will discuss top trends in their areas for half an hour. The day-long conference will conclude with a cocktail and networking session in the same area.

“At the last NAFEM Show we had about 175 people attend the day-long conference, and this year we’re expecting that many people or more, closer to 200,” says Koehler.

“I think this year’s turnout at the NAFEM show and our event is going to be strong. It seems like there is a lot more optimism out there than at the last event, and especially on the equipment side,” he says. “At another conference I attended recently, there seemed to be a higher attendance of high-quality purchasers, and I think that’s a positive sign.”

Koehler’s trend prediction for 2013? Smaller footprints. “It’s kind of a broken record at this point, but people keep talking about spaces getting smaller and they’re expected to do the same amount of work in that shrunken space.” For consultants, Koehler sees broadening horizons, rather than being overly niche, is the name of the game in terms of short- and long-term business growth. And marketing your business in a more holistic (online, social, in-person) manner has been an ongoing trend that only continues to gain steam, he says.

Full event schedule at

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