Tag Archives: McCormick Place

Top 10 NRA Show Observations (Part 1)

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Once again, I’ve taken one for the team and walked the floor at the National Restaurant Association show (yes, that NRA; sorry Mr. Nugent).

NRA

Show Floor – 2014 NRA – McCormick Place

In addition to things I reported on last year, there are some exciting new offerings.

Because there’s so much cool stuff, I’ve separated my Top 10 list into #6-10 (today’s post) and Top 5 (coming soon).  So here we go.

[NOTE:  as always, all links and photos are live: click on them to learn more]

Observation 10.  Tea!  Tea!  More Tea!  – as you may recall, tea was originally introduced at the 3000 B.C. NRA show (held outdoors in Wrigley Field).

The news this year is that every time you turned around you bumped into another tea purveyor trying to look old and mystical and yet hip at the same time. (sort of like Cher? Keith Richards?)  Dozens of them. Perhaps it’s an echo effect from Starbucks’s Teavana venture.  Or maybe they’ve been there all along and I’m just noticing.  At any rate, hot or cold, flavored or straight, Oprah’s Chai Latte or not, prepare to be offered tea more and more often.

DavidsonTea

 

 

Observation 9.  Greater Sales through Big Data.    Have you heard this term before:  ‘big data’?  Of course you have.  Not to be confused with ‘Satisfying Customers through Big Data‘ (more on that later).  The restaurant business is increasingly swimming in POS data, and LOTS of companies are trying to use it to help restaurants pry every last dollar from your wallet.

Essentially it comes down to driving traffic, increasing loyalty, up-selling, and above all, getting you to buy more high-margin beverages.  You out there, experimenting with different restaurants and learning about different food cultures?  Well, STOP IT!  Do you want to be just average, or do you want to be LOYAL?  Yes, a restaurant-centric, not consumer-centric way of looking at things.

Screen Shot 2014-05-20 at 9.56.30 PM

One loyalty company called Paytronix allows operators to send geofenced messages (it is what it sounds like), lets them pay for food with their phones, and more.  Just when we thought our ability to actually communicate with each other couldn’t get any worse, there are now even more distractions available.

Paytronix also models guest behavior to project potential high-value customers and nurture them. Which of course sounds familiar, since the casinos have been doing it for years.  Except you will never be comped drinks and a hotel room in a restaurant.

Observation 8.  Responsible/Local Sourcing – Whether it’s produce, protein or grains, where food comes from is increasingly getting attention.  However, it’s one thing to say it, quite another to do it on a meaningful scale.  As Chipotle found out recently when they faced a shortage of ‘responsibly raised beef’, reducing your supply options means the margin for error shrinks as well.

HydroponicsScreen Shot 2014-05-22 at 5.10.14 PM

 

Observation 7.  Mobile to help back office.  Could there be a less sexy title?  Doubtful.  The point here is rather than ‘mobile’ being a buzzword but not really ready for primetime, Mobile is starting to be leveraged in a way totally relevant to the frenetic nature of hospitality.

One startup, Partender, has developed a mobile app to get real-time inventory updates for the bar area.  In the bar business, making money is a lot about tightly controlling inventory to keep service levels high, while making as much cash available for the important stuff: hiring trick bartenders like Tom Cruise.

Seriously, I saw this app at work and it is slick, intuitive, and totally appropriate for the use.  When inventory is sitting on the shelves, it’s hard to input with a fixed desktop or laptop.  Mobile is increasingly adding real value where it makes sense..

Screen Shot 2014-05-22 at 5.15.48 PM

Observation 6.  Plant-Based Dinnerware – compostable products have been around a while; this year there were more products that were plant-based.  Specifically, companies like World Centric and Vegware offer tableware, utensils, napkins, hot/cold cups, to-go packages and more made from things like sugar cane, wheat straw, and corn.  As volume increases, costs will come down and you’ll see more of this approach.

energy-savings

…But wait – – Now you can also get utensils that you can not only eat with, but that you can EAT.  Foodie Spoon offers a selection of different serving shapes (spoons, cones, shapes) that you can put stuff on, and then eat the whole thing.  Think of a mini-me taco.

FoodieSpoon
So next time you’re at a party and a waiter offers you an elegant canapé on a spoon, amaze your friends and chomp the whole thing down.  (But maybe check first.)

THAT’S IT FOR OBSERVATIONS 6-10.   COMING SOON:  THE TOP 5, which promises to be even more exciting.

In the meantime, a few bonus experiences from the show:

Silpat Girl

Silpat Girl

Espresso Cheese!

Espresso Cheese!

Stay tuned!

Cruising IFT 2013 – my Top 10 Trends (Special Double Issue!)

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Don’t let the unsexy ‘Institute of Food Technologists’ name throw you; IFT’s members are basically the source of the Nile for foods and beverages.  IFT’s national Expo was just held in Chicago, where I walked the many miles of the McCormick Place floor so you didn’t have to.  It was where you could see ingredient innovations that will show up without warning in tomorrow’s new foods and beverages.

IFT2013 Main Hall

IFT 2013 – McCormick Place Floor

So for your edification, I hereby present my Top 10 Observations.

1) Chia.  No, not Chia Pets (although it’s the same plant) or even Chia LaBoeuf. An ancient grain, chia seeds promise high levels of Omega-3, ALA, fiber, calcium and minerals.  One marketer, Salba, targets their ‘super chia seeds’ at ‘smarty-pants’ consumers.  And you will need to think about it a little: like wheat germ, chia seeds aren’t generally eaten alone; they are typically sprinkled on or mixed in with other foods.

Chia Seeds

Chia Seeds

2) Matcha. This finely ground, premium green tea powder has been used ceremonially for millennia in Japan, and is offered in top restaurants worldwide.  For culinary purposes, matcha’s high amino acid content delivers a umami taste profile that can enable lower salt content.  Matcha can also be used as a colorant, due to its distinct green hue. The matcha makers were pushing all manner of green foods made with matcha, not all of which were ready for prime time.  High in antioxidants, you will likely have your first matcha moment at some point soon.  Arigatou gozaimasu.

Matcha 1

Ceremonial Matcha Tea

Matcha 3

Matcha Green Tea Jelly

Matcha scones

Matcha Scones

3) Saskatoon Berries.  So I’m at the Canada pavilion (they’re so nice there) and there’s a display showing Saskatoon berries (aka Prairie Berries) positioned as the next super fruit, with higher antioxidants than all your previous favorites (acaí, goji, etc.).  I try them — and they’re good!  Blueberry-sized but more fleshy, with just a hint of tartness.  Already well-liked for the obligatory preserves, pies and such, you may well be seeing Saskatoon berries showing up in more foods and beverages.  Trivia:  the province Saskatoon was named for the berry, not the other way around.  Who knew, indeed.

Saskatoon berries

Saskatoon Berries

SaskatoonFestival2Saskatoon pie

4) The word ‘pulse’. OK, I don’t live in Legume World, so maybe you’re familiar with the word; it’s always been just beans, peas and lentils to me.  But a lot more grain processors have started using the word pulse; my guess is you’ll be hearing it a lot more in the future.  Probably because it sounds a lot more sophisticated than talking about lima beans. (‘I’m in the pulse business, yeah baby!’)

Pulse grains

Pulse Grains

5) Bamboo Fiber.  This ingredient has long been used for textiles; I just hadn’t seen it in food.  Providing fiber’s benefits of texture, as well as bulking properties that accelerate one’s, ahem, transit time, it is used in juices, baked goods, pasta, sauces, among other applications, and is non-caloric.  And it’s label-friendly, too, being able to be called ‘vegetable fiber’.  I just don’t know the cost for all these benefits – – maybe we’ll sort that out next time around.

Bamboo

you know what this is

6) Natural food dyes.  Not surprisingly, the EU clean label trend has finally waded ashore from the Atlantic and is starting to make greater inroads in US food formulation.  Consumers increasingly want to see natural colors on the label (and of course, we know that everyone who claims to read labels always does).  So instead of CSPI whipping boys Yellow 5 or Red 40, get ready for more paprika, lycopene, annatto, turmeric and of course, cochineal extract.  But if you find out that the color comes from crushed insects, or algae, or your Velveeta doesn’t have its characteristic hi-glo orange-yellow hue anymore, don’t come crying to me.

Natural food coloring - Tribune

Natural food colorings (from Sensient Technologies)

7) Safety testing.  Ever since Roman praegustators, there has been a need for food testing.  And as the stakes have risen recently (see: melamine), based on my observation, so has the number of companies offering testing services to meet SQF and BRC standards (some great tech-speak that can score you some major points in the IFT cocktail hour – – but perhaps not in too many other places).
Tests for pathogens, listeria, salmonella, E. Coli, as well as fraudulent ingredients, can be done using HPLC, genetic molecular testing, straightforward micro testing, mass spectrometry, colony counting and zone sizing, and numerous other approaches that I don’t understand, using chemicals, software, and machinery.  As a consumer, it’s good to know that there is such a focus on safety.  As an IFT show-goer, it was disappointing – the food safety guys don’t tend to give out free food or tchotchkes.

IFT2013 testing

This software helps detect ingredients that shouldn’t be there, in this case tartaric acid. It can also see if that gluten-free claim is really true, or if there actually was any Benzedrine in Mrs. Murphy’s Ovaltine.

8) Sodium reduction.  The holy trinity of ingredients to avoid are fat, calories and sodium.  The consequences of over-consuming the first two are visible.  Sodium reduction helps with non-visible dangers like hypertension (dangers that Americans typically are excellent at ignoring), and as a result there has been less urgency.  But it seems that this is changing.  There were quite a few sodium reduction products offered promising great taste, using approaches as disparate as different crystal shape, blended granules, microspheres, starch and baking solutions, and more.  You heard it here first, the age of real sodium reduction has arrived.

IFT Salt

9 in 10 Americans over age 2 eat too much sodium

9) Alternatives to traditional ingredients.  What do you do for news when the main building blocks of food (like wheat flour) are not only mature, but facing new challenges (like GMO-free, gluten-free, etc.)?  You introduce new ways to get there.  Hence flours from sweet potatoes, soy, sesame, flax, coconut, rice, spelt, almond, buckwheat, spirulina and more.  Each has its own taste profile, nutritional benefits, and processing limitations.  You won’t see this stuff in your Twinkies, but it’s coming elsewhere, and it will be great to have more taste, texture and nutritional options.

IFT Sesame Flour

Sesame Flour

10) Maple Water.  Still trying to wrap your head around coconut water?  Well, clear out some mindspace for maple water.  It’s so new, it wasn’t even in the show – – I heard about it from a friendly Canadian.  It seems the Quebec maple producers have launched this product as a thirst quencher, ingredient, and in any case, an all-around transparent strategy to extend revenues from the maple crop.  It is supposed to have a distinctive flavor, slightly sweet.  Coconut water from the south, now maple water from the north, it seems the US has its flavored water NAFTA obligations covered.

IFT_maple-water

(actually, it’s not yet clear exactly what they want us to do with this stuff)

—————-

Bonus points for using this ingredient in YOUR product.

IFT2013 pop-rocks

Open to suggestion.

That’s it – see you at next year’s show!