National Restaurant Association Show 2018 - Trends in the Food Service Industry

National Restaurant Association Show 2018

Attending the annual National Restaurant Association Show is always an enlightening, educating and enjoyable experience - plenty of free samples! Over 66,000 attendees participated in the four-day event at the McCormick Place convention center in Chicago, IL. This is the largest gathering of industry professionals, food preparation equipment manufacturers, food & beverage processing organizations and media outlets all dedicated to improving the preparation and enjoyment of food.

Having now attended two straight years, the difference in exhibitions was significant year over year. The restaurant industry continues to innovate to meet consumers' ever-changing and unique needs. A few areas of focus for me was how suppliers to the restaurant industry are adapting their products and services to meet buyers needs in the areas of organic and natural foods, social interaction, mobile food options and take-out/to-go packaging.

Organic and Natural Still Going Strong

Organic and natural food products continue to evolve as a result of consumer desire to enjoy meals with fewer preservatives and free of artificial colors and ingredients. Couple that with consumers' increased requirements for low-calorie or sugar free food offerings, food processing companies are developing new food options and or changing their recipes to meet consumer demand.

Social Engagement to Improve Customer Experience

Social interaction between restaurants and their customer base continues to grow at a rapid pace. Many of the exhibitors are developing platforms so that they can more intimately engage with their customers; both at their brick and mortar locations and online (mobile apps, websites, texts, etc.). Self-ordering with on-site kiosks are becoming more prevalent thus removing the need for face-to-face order placement with a crew member. Mobile off-site ordering via apps takes this to the next level so that a meal is ready upon arrival or ready for take-out. Consumers are demanding more options to their ordering process and restaurants are hearing their needs loud and clear.

Food Trucks Increasing in Popularity

A large increase in exhibitor presence this year were options for mobile food trucks. I don’t recall a single instance in 2017 where this up and coming trend was featured. This year, I saw no less than 5 exhibitors all promoting their food truck solutions, an area of opportunity for restaurateurs to offer their products in close proximity to their customer base. These firms come to where you are vs. consumers needing to plan to travel to their restaurant sites.

Third Party Delivery Evolving

Lastly, the growth in third party delivery services (Grub Hub, etc.) continues to evolve. The goal here is ensuring a customer’s order is not only promptly delivered but also served at the correct temperature, correct in nature and free from tampering. Restaurants continue to develop solutions to meet all of these needs.

As I drove home back to Wisconsin following a great day at the NRA show, I pondered how Outlook Group could help support those exhibitors needs. It was clear that Outlook Group’s packaging solutions align exceptionally well with those needs that the exhibitors are quickly attempting to meet. Our branded Trending Natural packaging connects well with those food processing firms looking to differentiate their natural and organic products in the marketplace. Our unique labeling solutions just might be a solution to those restaurateurs needing to ensure tamper free packaging or convenient to-go or on-the-go (mobile food truck) packaging solutions.

I look forward to attending once again in 2019 when the NRA celebrates it’s 100 year! Bon appetite!

Patrick Culver

Author - Patrick Culver
Business Development Manager
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