More than 2,000 suppliers exhibited their products at the National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago. The energy on the show floor was high as more than 60,000 attendees visited the booths, sampling food and beverages and watching vendor demonstrations. Here is a look at the top three trends among exhibitors.
Special formulations steal the show
The NRA debuted a new pavilion this year with Alternative BiteStyle, a portion of the show floor dedicated to special dietary needs, including gluten-free, low-sodium and allergies such as nuts and dairy. Whether consumers need a special diet because of an allergy or illness, or they are just trying to eat healthier, there is an ever-growing collection of companies that offer something made with their needs in mind. Brands such as Udi’s Gluten Free , Hail Merry and WowButter Foods, maker of a nut,- dairy- and gluten-free peanut-flavored spread, specialize in products for consumers with special dietary needs, but there were plenty of traditional suppliers touting their gluten-free or nut-free products. Capitalizing on the trend toward an “avoidance diet” doesn’t mean companies need to churn out new products. If they already offer something that is gluten-free or dairy-free, simply adding that information to the label can help attract new customers who may not have known an existing product already fit their needs.
Healthy is hot when it comes to food for children
Most consumers are seeking out healthy choices, but nutritious options for children were especially abundant at this year’s show. Exhibitors with an eye on children’s nutrition ranged from fruit and vegetable products such as Buddy Fruits and Fresherized Foods to items meant to make nutritious choices more appealing to children. Magic Straws, which impart flavors such as cinnamon and Birthday Cake when used to sip milk, can make milk more appetizing to the younger set while adding only 17 calories per serving.
Greek yogurt products continue to proliferate, and Chobani displayed its new Chobani Champions Tubes, which hit retail stores this year. Stephen Dean, vice president of sales for Chobani, said the company and its founder, Hamdi Ulukaya, are committed to producing kid-friendly flavors with the “lowest possible sugar … to offer the same protein-filled yogurt we do for adults.”
Beverages bubble up
Natural, calorie-free and gourmet carbonated beverages were popular on the show floor this year. Companies large and small showcased their offerings, from Coca-Cola‘s new calorie-free, sparkling Fruitwater to Joia‘s all-natural sodas that come in gourmet flavors such as Lime, Hibiscus & Clove and Grapefruit, Chamomile & Cardamom. The gourmet flavors are great for drinking solo or mixing with spirits for an easy cocktail. Other soda brands also played up their products’ potential as a cocktail mixer, such as Q Drinks, which offers citrus flavors in addition to cocktail classics such as club soda and tonic water.
Image credit: National Restaurant Association