At last month’s National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago, 2,168 exhibiting companies — a 4.3% increase over last year — showcased their products to more than 61,000 attendees. Some trends from last year’s show returned bigger than ever, including gluten-free items and health-focused beverages. Here is a look at three trends that dominated this year’s show.
Locavore movement grows with in-house produce operations
Locally grown produce was the second most popular trend named by chefs in NRA’s 2014 What’s Hot Culinary Forecast, and the local produce movement was well represented at this year’s show. Attendees could sign up for a tour of McCormick Place‘s very own rooftop garden, which will provide about 6,000 pounds of produce to the convention center’s two Green Seal-certified restaurants this year. McCormick’s foodservice provider, Savor, works with the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Windy City Harvest to tend and harvest the herbs, lettuces and vegetables grown on the rooftop.”We work with the chefs to make sure everything can be utilized,” Windy City’s Angie Mason said. The rooftop garden has provided McCormick chefs with garlic, bok choy and tomatoes, among other crops. Mason said Windy City plans to add two beehives to the rooftop this year.
On the show floor, exhibitor Future Growing displayed apparatuses for urban farming that foodservice operators can use to grow vegetables indoors or on a rooftop. Urban farming operations are growing across the country, but “back [when the company started] in 2005 it was a hippie movement … we were the tip of the tidal wave,” company president James Coffman said. Future Growing provided the 26 units in use in O’Hare International Airport, which provide produce to some of the airport’s restaurants such as Wolfgang Puck Express.
Spicy flavors trend continues to heat up
Bold, spicy flavors were a big presence on the show floor this year. Exhibitors showed off spice in foods ranging from nuts and salsas to more unusual applications, such as the chocolate ice cream infused with chipotle sauce on display at the Tabasco booth. Tabasco produced the ice cream especially for the show, but said it’s as simple as adding a few bottles of the brand’s chipotle sauce to a batch of soft serve ice cream.
Sauce- and dressings-maker Arcobasso has been dealing in spicy flavors since 1987, but Business Development Manager Kristen Gutshall said she has noticed the growing fervor for spicy foods, especially those with an Asian flair.
Companies call out kosher certification
Foods targeted at those with special diets have been a growing trend for years. Gluten-free items could be found in almost every aisle on the show floor, but kosher-certified foods were also well represented this year. Brands including 1-2-3 Gluten Free and Sweet Street Desserts said they have been kosher-certified from the beginning, since obtaining a kosher-certification for baked goods is relatively simple.
“What’s really driving kosher forward is the perception among consumers … that it’s much healthier, it’s cleaner, it’s potentially more natural. There is this whole halo of health and wellness and “better for you” … to kosher products which is definitely in keeping with how the food industry is going and the kind of things that consumers are increasingly conscious of,” said Maeve Webster, senior director of Datassential. Webster said the penetration of gluten-free has now surpassed that of kosher, with gluten-free appearing on 10% of menus in 2014 compared to kosher, which appears on just 4% of menus. Despite its meteoric rise, gluten-free still has some detractors, something that Webster said isn’t really a concern with kosher. “To the broader market, gluten-free has as many negative connotations as it may have positive with the niche market,” Webster said, “Whereas with kosher, there really are no negative associations with consumers.”
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