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NRA Show 2017: the largest show in NRA history

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New technology, breakthrough F&B products and tech-savvy startups all highlighted innovation on show, says Tatiana Vieira Green

Another year with strong growth for international attendees and exhibitors highlighted the global nature of the NRA Show. The event offered everything needed to achieve success in the foodservice industry. From knowledge to hands-on implementation, from quantity to quality, from variety to value, from innovation to traditional well-proven solutions, the NRA Show had it all.

Spanning three halls at the 2.6 million square-foot McCormick Place, the NRA Show featured established and emerging supplier brands showcasing more than 900 product categories. At more than 695,000 sq ft, it was the largest NRA Show ever. Top brands and organizations represented included McDonald’s, Domino’s, Aramark, Stanford University, Sysco, Whole Foods, Panera Bread, Chick-fil-A, Sodexo, Kroger, Starbuck’s, Darden Restaurants, Bloomin’ Brands, and thousands more industry heavyweights.

The high energy on the show floor was evident among exhibitors, which comprised companies from more than 30 countries including Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Israel, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Spain, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom. The Show actually offered 55% more international pavilions this year, with new exhibits added from Mexico, China, the Philippines, Iran, and Canada.

Innovation continues to dominate the show floor

Besides an impressive selection of exhibitors, invited Chefs, and specialty areas, one of the key highlights in 2017 was the newly launched Innovation HUB. This zone was comprised of three distinctive areas: the Innovation Theater, Tech Talks, and Startup Alley.

The Innovation Hub had everything participants needed to stay current on the latest industry innovations and unlock best practices.

At Innovation Theater, attendees participated in key discussions such as ‘The Impact of Customer-Facing Technology on Restaurant Design’, ‘Key Trends Shaping the Future of Foodservice’ and ‘Bridging the Atlantic:  U.S. and U.K. Restaurant Trends’. All topics devoted to keep participants ahead of the competition with in-depth research and timely education sessions.

Created to connect attendees with tech-savvy startups poised to make a big impact in foodservice, Startup Alley brought 14 companies that are at the forefront of digital innovation for the foodservice sector. The companies this year included Kitchens with Confidence, Orderly, SeatNinja, Tabit, and Tapyness.

New products

Innovation was also present with the new products introduced at the show. Every year hundreds of new products are launched at NRA Show. In 2017, while wondering through the exhibition floor, attendees were able to find the most delicious, unique, and exciting food and beverage products that benefit restaurant operators and consumers alike. This year’s 36 Food and Beverage Innovation (FABI) Award recipients included products such as salt created with revolutionary processing technology to contains 50% less sodium than table salt; a naturally flavored beverage with ginger, cane sugar, and blood orange extract called Blood Orange Ginger Beer; and the world’s first plant-based burger that looks, cooks, and satisfies like fresh ground beef.

The items labeled as ‘Hot New Products’ were another highlight in terms of innovative food and beverage products showcased at the show floor. Exhibitors with such products received special sticker identification in their booth. Among the breakthrough products that had this identification, attendees were able to find the only packaged salad product with roots designed for optimal flavor, freshness and convenience (Pete’s Living Greens Living Strips), and a 2017 Sofi Award winner that is a delicious ‘salad in a bottle’ (ZUMO Gazpacho).

Forward-thinking equipment solutions were also center stage at NRA Show 2017. For over a decade, the industry has trusted the KI (Kitchen Innovation) Awards to recognize products that meaningfully improve the back of the house. The 18 selected innovations that were present at the KI Pavilion addressed operator concerns from labor, energy, and water efficiency to food safety, sanitation, cross-functionality, and space-saving.

The show displayed strong presence of international participants. This unprecedented attendance success included high-powered buyers and influencers from more than 120 countries. The growth is also due to the contributions by key delegations from the Department of Commerce and United State Department of Agriculture, international associations, and independent visitors from countries such as Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Japan, Kenya, Nicaragua, United Arab Emirates and United Kingdom.

International visitors coming to connect, buy, and get inspired were able to explore and purchase new technological solutions and breakthrough equipment; network with key suppliers, manufacturers, and other restaurateurs from around the world; and find new innovations in food and beverage products.

There were numerous ways to profit from the variety of experiences the NRA Show offered – none better than simply using the Show as the place to explore key global trends and innovations.

Further details

NRA Show 2018 will be held 19-22 May at Chicago’s McCormick Place. For more information visit Restaurant.org/Show.

Tatiana Vieira Green