This is part 2 of coverage of the 2014 National Restaurant Association show – too much great stuff to fit into one post.
I’ve ranked my top 10 observations; this post features my Top 5.
(If you missed my previous post, you can see #6-10 here).
Again, all links are live so please click through with abandon.
OBSERVATION #5. School Lunch is a Battleground.
Remember when school lunch was a PBJ, apple and Twinkie in a paper bag or Superman lunchbox? How many ways would that not work now?
Two trends are making school lunch planning fiendishly difficult.
A) FLOTUS Michelle Obama’s Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 sets limits for sodium, fat, sugar and calories, among other things.
– What’s happened is that compliant healthy meals are often too skimpy (or not tasty), kids are not eating them, and some schools are dropping out because they are losing money (even with subsidies).
Check out these funny-yet-sad tweets from kids complaining about their lunch offering:
B) Separately, allergens (like nuts) are becoming more of a center of the plate issue.
The result of all this is that there were numerous products specifically positioned as not only allergen-free, but also satisfying the school lunch nutritional requirements.
Home Free, Skeeter and Funley’s are on the market touting such mouth-watering claims as ‘Nut Free’, ‘School Compliant’ and ‘Gluten Free’ and other ‘free-from’ things. Which is a shame, because beneath those claims they all tasted really good – a message that seemed somehow forced into 2nd place.
Separately, organizations like Wholesome Tummies are offering alternative programs providing ‘fresh, nutritious and exciting foods’.
There were a lot of school nutritionists asking lots of questions. And ultimately the market will decide.
OBSERVATION #4. Liquor-flavored meat.
With these two manly ingredients, how could you lose? There were quite a few examples of meat flavored with some sort of macho alcohol. We’ve seen things like Jack Daniel’s barbecue sauce for years, but these examples had the flavor infused into the meat.
A few examples:
– Family Brands has just introduced meat products infused with Ole Smoky White Lightnin’ Tennessee Moonshine. You can get pulled pork, sausage and other products flavored with with regular, apple pie or other moonshines. They taste great, but don’t overdo it – – you may get Dukes of Hazzard flashbacks.
– Over at Zoe’s Meats, they’re offering Ghost Pepper Salami with tequila
– And my friends at Kronos Foods were sampling their brand-new Beer Can Chicken, which I can testify is better than anything I get from my smoker. Perhaps one reason is that they use PBA (Premium Brown Ale), while I use PBR.
OBSERVATION #3. Food Trucks Mainstreamed.
Food trucks have long been thought by some of as being on the funky fringe of foodservice, operating from recycled ice cream trucks. Well, this year served notice that food trucks are now driving right down the middle of the road.
Several companies offered custom foodservice trucks, built to spec and coming in at around $150,000. These are impressive, well-equipped, heavy duty vehicles specially built to bring the finest cuisines right to your doorstep.
At that point, whether you go for kimchi, po’ boy, pupusas or paletas is entirely up to you.
OBSERVATION #2 – RUNNER-UP: Kallpod. ‘What’, you say?
How many times have you had an otherwise great meal spoiled by:
– waiting for a refill on your drink
– waiting for your check
– otherwise having your server disappear into the ether never to be seen again
Well, this tech innovation gets super-high marks because it focuses on diner satisfaction. What a concept.
The best analogy for Kallpod is the ‘Call Attendant’ button in an airplane – – only in this case it’s on your restaurant table and it’s wirelessly connected to a special Dick Tracy-like device that your server wears.
The concept is simple: you hit a button (refill, check please, etc) and your server gets a small vibration/shock and message like ‘check, table #8’. How great is that? Awesome, although possibly less so if you’re a server, I suppose.
Reminds me a little of the Burger King Subservient Chicken that was compelled to respond to commands from strangers (shown in redemption video here):
So Kallpod offers something for everyone:
– Diners get quicker, better service and for a select few, the opportunity to indulge hidden sadistic tendencies
– Operators convert more drink requests, and can turn tables more quickly
– Servers get the opportunity to see their guests more, and for a select few, the opportunity to indulge hidden masochistic tendencies.
Kidding aside, this is a palm-to-forehead great idea, well executed.
And the winning #1 observation at this year’s NRA is: SCHMACON!
Yes, Schmacon. It’s not a trend or even a fad, it’s the sort of cosmic occurrence that we unfortunately see all too infrequently in our short time here on this mortal coil.
My first minutes at NRA, at 9am, took me directly into the olfactory territory that the modest Schmacon booth was invisibly marking.
Schmacon is ‘smoked and cured glazed beef slices’ , but think of it as beef bacon, which by one account tastes like ‘crispy glazed pastrami’ (thanks Kevin Pang). By all accounts it is delicious, as demonstrated by the growing line for samples (of which I had two, for research purposes).
In addition, it is lower in calories, fat and sodium than traditional bacon. A bit ironically, it is not pork but neither is it kosher. But who are we to quibble about a technicality?
Schmacon is from Schmaltz Products in the Chicago area – a company with a funny name, but serious deli DNA.
Schmacon was a Food & Beverage 2014 award-winner. I took home Schmacon literature and a scratch ‘n sniff button to remind me of my experience. It’s mostly just for foodservice now, but you can taste it for yourself when it hits retail shelves later in the year.
So that’s it for the Top 10. I do have some Honorable Mentions directly below:
Ice Beer. Basically a beer slurpee, complete with alcohol.
Nutella Poppers. Like little chocolate beignets – awesome (and proof that carbs are alive and well)
Neat meat replacements. Mixes made from nuts, beans, grains and other ingredients. Really tasty with great texture.
Poppies Dough. Terrific products (but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I had a little Seinfeld moment…)