Tag Archives: National Restaurant Association

5 Snacks to Watch – Sweets and Snacks Expo, Part 1

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Last week was a double-dip of intense investigative pseudo-journalism. First the National Restaurant Association show, then the Sweets & Snacks Expo.

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Following summarizes The Armchair MBAs discoveries from 5 hours of walking the Sweets & Snacks Expo floor at McCormick Place in Chicago, 5 miles of shoe leather, and way too many samples.

The short story – while the overall sweets and snacks landscape is relatively stable (popcorn, nuts, chips, chocolate, etc), around the edges you could see green shoots of innovation.  And that was about the only green I saw at this show.

Snacks are covered today; Sweets to follow soon.

Snacks – mega trends

Popcorn dominated the floor, with dozens of options in every flavor, claim, and form imaginable. Many were jumping on the SkinnyPop ’35 calories per cup’ bandwagon – – when of course no one has EVER had less than 5 cups of ‘CrackPop’ at a sitting.  It is impossible to describe all the popcorn products that were shown.

Popcorn

–  Flavored nuts, veggie, fruit and grain based chips, and other things that started life simple and healthy and then got transformed beyond recognition.

–  Jerky. Around for centuries, jerky’s high protein/low carb profile has moved it beyond trucker feed to be now ready for its close-up.  At least 20 companies were showing off their jerky.

Here’s a little Brand Extension 101 for you:
–  Expanded category definition: from beef to elk, bison, turkey, chicken, salmon (the salmon jerky is extra high protein, and tasted great  — if sometimes a little chewy)

OB-Jerky-Orig-232x300

RB-teriyaki-jerky

Flavor proliferation: pepper, acaí berry, ginger & wasabi, jalapeño, honey spice, chile ‘n lime, roasted cayenne, etc.

Price stratification: companies like Duke’s are now selling ‘small batch’ jerky at higher prices.

Form differentiation – a company called Kratos is trying to avoid the impending jerky shakeout by positioning (and shaping) their beef product like a healthy protein bar, complete with “Unleash your Warrior” tagline and impossibly fit people on their website.  Nice work, actually.

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5 snack products worth keeping an eye on:

1.  SuperSeedz gourmet pumpkin seeds – high protein, claims galore, 8 flavors and a clever name; delicious

SuperSeedz

2.  EatKeenwa Krunch – the only quinoa-based cluster snack that I noticed, and quite tasty, even if the ‘clusters’ crumbled a bit in the bag

quinoa-cluster-snack-eatkeenwa-krunch-vanilla-almond-raisin_large

3.  Ocean’s Halo seaweed chips – if I got the backstory right, 2 dads from Korea who grew up eating seaweed, and 2 dads from the U.S. who grew up eating tortilla chips got together on this – the not-surprising result being a hearty chip that is somewhat reminiscent of sushi. Surprisingly good, particularly with a salmon jerky chaser.  The only seaweed chips at the show.

Oceans Halo big_seasalt3

4. Snikiddy Eat Your Vegetables veggie chips –a strong claim of ‘1 full serving of vegetables in every ounce’, offset somewhat by fat count (7g/oz) which is a bit on the high side for a vegetable

snikiddy_EYV_jalapeno-470x5375. Simple Squares organic snack bars. Reflective of trends toward raw/paleo (minimally processed), simple label products. 5 ingredients, non-GMO, etc.

SimpleSquare

 

That’s it for this installment.  Coming up:  Sweets!

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Top 5 Observations! – National Restaurant Show (Part 2)

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This is part 2 of coverage of the 2014 National Restaurant Association show – too much great stuff to fit into one post.

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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:

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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.

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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.

OleSmoky

– 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.

FoodTruck

FoodTruckInt

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.

Kallpod

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):

http://adage.com/article/news/burger-king-s-subservient-chicken-video/292953/

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.

Schmacon2

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.

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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.

IceBeer

 

Nutella Poppers.  Like little chocolate beignets – awesome (and proof that carbs are alive and well)

Carbs!

 

Neat meat replacements.  Mixes made from nuts, beans, grains and other ingredients.  Really tasty with great texture.

Neat

Poppies Dough.  Terrific products (but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I had a little Seinfeld moment…)

Poppies

 

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).

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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.

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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.

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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..

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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.

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…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!

10 Observations from the Real Man’s NRA Show

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What sort of a charmed life is one living when Chef Robert Irvine factors into it twice in a single month?  I had the pleasure of walking the floor at the National Restaurant Association show in Chicago this week, and was treated to a delightful array of sights, smells, tastes, huge portions of protein, and in the case of Chef Irvine, sounds!

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Overall, while there were no gangbuster introductions, the show seemed to achieve a cosmic balance of the healthy (e.g. gluten-free), the indulgent (pastry galore), the novel (spinach balls) and the old-school standbys.

Here’s a sampler from this roving do-it-yourself Lazy Susan:

1)    MO’ MEAT!  An unlimited assault of meat.  Australian Wagyu beef (unbelievable!), Ditka’s chicken sausage (should real men eat it?), bangers from Jolly Posh, jamon iberico de bellota, plain old hot dogs, and the list goes on.  A veritable on-the-fly charcuterie.  Ron Swanson’s vision of heaven.  Perhaps the only product equally welcomed at either NRA show.

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2)    Celebrity!  The boundary between cooking as craft and cooking as entertainment has been erased forever.  Anthony Bourdain, a few of Food Network’s A Team (Aarón Sanchez, Robert Irvine, Alexandra Guarnaschelli – and that was just the day I was there), and many others.  They attracted long lines, and in the case of the showcase demo area,  made a lot of noise (yes, that’s Chef Irvine wearing a tight black short-sleeved shirt for a change).

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3)    Rising international influence.  The international representation of exhibitors was exceeded only by the internationality of the attendees.  Not just many countries, but lots of delicious cross-fertilization of ingredients and techniques. More proof of the unstoppable globalization of foods and flavors.  Peru debuted at NRA this year.

4)    Salmon –  oak or maple smoked, flavored, salty, delicious – – and in unlimited supply.  Like the brunch table at that swanky Bar Mitzvah you heard about but weren’t invited to. Maybe it’s been there all along, but I was astounded at all the options this year.

5)    Tchotchkes – Flo bobble-heads (from Progressive Insurance), t-shirts, cozies, pens, etc.  I was lucky to be on the floor close to the show’s end, and scored a nice bottle of Magueye Sweet Sap – – an old-but-new, tasty alternative sweetener.  You heard it here first.

Maguey Sweet Sap

6)    Umami – OK, there are 5 flavors now, just like there are 8 planets.  Forget what you learned as a kid.   It’s here, it’s savory, and it means great taste.  A whole area was devoted to just umami.

7)   Greek Yogurt – – it’s alive!  And not just in plastic containers any more.  Not only were Greek yogurt-based dessert options shown that more closely resembled ice cream sundaes, there was also Greek yogurt cheesecake, mac and cheese, and more.  Hmm…starts out as a healthy option, now loaded with sugar and other stuff.  We’ve seen this before:  energy bars, muffins, etc.

7)    Technology – from the large booths of companies like NEC and IBM, to small software entrepreneurs, at times the NRA looked more like a technology convention.  Whether hi-tech signage, online menu management software, or nutritional scoring, technology seems almost as important as the food in enabling operators to compete profitably.  Judging by a lot of sameness in some of the standard food offerings, perhaps it’s already passed food in importance…

9)    Alternative ordering/delivery  – GrubHub/Seamless, MobileTummy and others were pitching all manner of new ways to hook people up with food.  Order online, order by mobile, have it delivered, have it ready – – another case where technology is enabling options that are designed to match the way people live.

10)  Focus on kids’ health – consistent with NRA’s own Kids Live Well program, there were quite a few exhibitors focusing on not only healthier fare that kids might actually eat, but techniques to evaluate nutritional content and make good choices as foodservice operators, as well as consumer-friendly apps to make it easier to find a restaurant with kid-friendly offerings.

And now to the Stairmaster.