Labor Challenges Are Major Theme of 2019 NRA Show
CHICAGO — The busy expo halls of the 2019 National Restaurant Association (NRA) Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show backed up what industry experts have been saying for years: The foodservice industry is evolving, the lines between channels are blurring, and suppliers are eager to seize the opportunity to help operators face the challenges.
A major theme of this year's NRA Show, seen in both education sessions and vendor booth visits, was the issue of labor. With unemployment low and the bar for foodservice workers getting higher, numerous exhibitors showed off products and services designed to, if not replace human labor, streamline duties so that employees can be more effective and efficient in their roles.
Some of the suppliers tackling the labor problem and highlighting their latest offerings at the NRA Show included:
Egg is a popular protein, but the cook time for scrambling can leave operators with a choice between slowing down or using pre-cooked egg as an ingredient. Antunes' JS-1000 Jet Steamer, which won a 2019 Kitchen Innovations Award at the show, harnesses the power of steam, made from plain drinking water, to cook a single scrambled egg in 12 seconds. The velocity and temperature of steam bursts, combined with the unique shape of the mounted steaming cup, lets retailers quickly cook eggs, as well as oatmeal, rice, vegetables, soups and more.
The company's suite of Freshmarx Solutions offers retailers a variety of ways to track food waste, accurately label nutritional information and improve overall food safety. Its RFID for Freshmarx solution is designed to be a significant time-saver for retail employees. Waving a RFID gun past a shelf of boxes affixed with RFID tags allows workers to take a nearly instant, fully accurate inventory, avoiding potential manual errors or corner-cutting. Avery Dennison also facilitates self-checkout programs by pairing RFID-labeled products with certain payment services, such as Apple Pay.
This turnkey frozen, blended and dispensed beverage program lets customers use a touchscreen to select their drink category, flavor and cup size, then step back and wait as a smoothie is made automatically, saving the step of waiting on a barista to create it. Beverage Innovations Inc., Welbilt Inc. and Kwik Trip Inc. worked together to develop Fresh Blends, as Convenience Store News previously reported. At last year's NRA Show, the Fresh Blends unit was still going through testing. A year later, the program is up and running and seeing strong results chainwide for Kwik Trip, its first retailer partner.
Teazzers, one of the largest suppliers of fresh-brewed teas in the United States, demonstrated its new-to-market Teazzers SmartBrew machine. Created in partnership with NewCo, the unit allows for more effective category management by tracking brews, performing self-diagnostics and utilizing wireless data transmission to send information to the cloud. This real-time data allows for more accurate analytics and faster adjustments by retailers.
The company also sampled its infused water offering, which provides health-conscious consumers with a flavored water option outside of the packaged beverages segment. It uses real fruit pieces and no sugar in the brewing process to provide fresh, authentic flavor.
For years, Restaurant Technologies' Automated Oil Management and AutoMist systems have helped foodservice retailers with fried food and made-to-order programs change their oil in an easier, safer manner and keep hoods, flues and fans clean through a regular, automatic process. The convenience store industry is now catching up to the restaurant sector's use of this kind of maintenance, according to a company representative, who noted that 800 to 900 c-stores have already signed on to add the systems in 2019.
The 2019 National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show took place May 18-21 at Chicago's McCormick Place.