Building the Future of Foodservice


CHICAGO — This past weekend, retailers, suppliers and manufacturers came together to share insights, make deals and take the next steps into a promising future for the foodservice industry at the 2017 National Restaurant Association (NRA) Show.

The annual event kicked off May 20 at Chicago's McCormick Place.

Sunday marked the return of the second-ever Foodservice @ Retail Summit, a special program aimed at convenience and supermarket retailers who want to grow and improve their prepared food business. Day one of the event featured a look at the current state of the industry; a guided tour of and tastings at the one-of-a-kind Latin retail and dining experience Latinicity; and an overview of ethnic retailing and trends, presented by Chef Richard Sandoval.

Overall, the retail foodservice industry has seen strong growth in the last year, with a slight increase in the number of retailers moving up from a basic prepared food program to the mid-tier premium level. Trends to investigate include spicy chicken, flavor synergies between uncommon ingredients, and meal kits that offer everything needed to cook a meal at home.

The general show floor featured a wide variety of demonstrations and educational sessions for all segments of the industry. Businesses with a mature foodservice program had the opportunity to learn how best to capitalize on it in a digital world through the Tech Talks presentation, "How to Achieve a 12% Sales Increase With a Mobile Loyalty App." Speaker Jim Steinberg, director of enterprise partnerships at LoyaltyPlant, discussed why and how companies should invest in a branded mobile app.

"The mobile phone is the primary communication device that we all share today," Steinberg pointed out, noting that mobile app traffic is well ahead of mobile web traffic via browsers.

Additionally, mobile apps allow for true personalization as part of the user experience, and actual results have shown an increase in the number of customers and the average check size.

According to Steinberg, effective mobile apps should have digital ordering, but that shouldn't be the only function they offer. Apps should also be tied into a loyalty program; provide relevant personal content and an enjoyable user experience; offer incentives to use the app; and make use of strong images, as food is extremely visually compelling.


The NRA Show's expo halls featured hundreds of exhibitors, many of whom specifically targeted the convenience store industry while highlighting their new products.

The Broaster Co. featured two pieces of equipment from new acquisitions that it intends to use as a point of differentiation. The Smokaroma pressure smoker uses real wood chips to create a distinct flavor profile in a fraction of the time that traditional smokers take, while the Instant Burger utilizes direct energy transfer to quickly and fully cook hamburgers. It requires no hood, making it especially suited for the c-store market.

SkinnyPop displayed new flavors of Paqui gourmet tortilla chips and the Oatmega Cookie, which offers consumers the chance to get a boost of protein in a baked treat rather than a bar or meat snack.

Alto-Shaam won a Kitchen Innovations Award for its Vector Multi-Cook Oven, which includes four vertically stacked cavities that can cook different products at different temperatures. The air curtain that keeps hot air from coming out when the front door is opened both helps maintain temperature and provides a power-saving feature.

Hatco displayed multiple cook tops that are capable of analyzing the pan being used based on its weight and automatically adjusting its power usage. They also provide an extra safety feature by automatically shutting down after a period of inactivity when no pan has been placed on them. The company also previewed its upcoming Flav-R Savor heated holding cabinet, which will be the first to keep heat in with an air curtain instead of a cabinet door. This will allow retailers to keep products in the warmer for a longer period of time without having to close them behind a door, which tests showed made customers less likely to take an item from the warmer, a company representative said.

The Coca-Cola Co. showcased a wide variety of new flavors and types of beverages, from carbonated soft drinks to sparkling to frozen drinks. A booth highlight was its Barrilitos aguas frescas. Currently available for the fountain or in a bubbler, the low-calorie line specifically targets millennials and the multicultural consumer.

Hoshizaki displayed its line of refrigerated prep tables in a variety of sizes for retailers with made-to-order programs. The continuously swirled chilled air beneath the ingredient bins maintains the temperature for food safety.

Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery offers single-serve, 2-ounce packages of Natural White Cheddar Cheese Curds made with milk from Wisconsin farms. They are designed to be an ideal impulse item for deli and c-store counters, and the packaging process provides a shelf life of more than six months when kept unrefrigerated and unopened.

The 2017 NRA Show concludes May 23.

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