National Restaurante Association Show 2022: Innovation on the Menu

NSF was proud to make our mark at the May 21-24 show in Chicago. We connected again with the foodservice industry and explored what's trending.

This was the first National Restaurant Association Show since 2019, and energy and excitement filled the exhibition halls. Foodservice companies of all kinds craved the renewed opportunity to show how they can help serve up greater success for restaurants and other foodservice providers. Attendance was estimated to be more than 65,000 — more than in 2019.

The hospitality industry is always evolving, of course, but perhaps now more than ever before. Recent health and safety challenges, new and creative food formulations, advances in technology, consumer passions and demands: they combined to make this year’s event a significant showcase for both established and new exhibitors.

What was in the air besides the aroma of food samples? Here’s a taste of what we observed:

It’s wonderful to see the great mix of exhibitors — everything for restaurants — and the high attendance.

- Sara Risley, Director of Food Product Certification

Robotics and Automation

Restaurants are finding it difficult to hire all the employees they need. They’re also dealing with record-high labor costs. Automation is a proven way to meet these challenges, and more solutions were on display this year for food prep in the kitchen and food delivery at front of house. From countertop mechanized vegetable choppers to automated coffee vending kiosks and robot baristas to food-serving robots with expressive “faces”, manufacturers are coming through.

Plant-Based Proteins

It’s no secret sales of plant-based meat alternatives are booming, and a number of first-time exhibitors joined established brands at the show. Faux chicken seemed to dominate, though vegan substitutes for beef, pork, cheese, eggs and gyro meat added to the choices for restaurants looking to satisfy this growing consumer demand. We also noticed attendees were eager to try these products and talk about adding them to their menus.

Ghost Kitchens (AKA Virtual, Dark or Shadow Kitchens)

Consumers have come to rely on takeout and delivery in the last two years. This has spurred the growth of delivery-only virtual-brand concepts. Tech companies — household names as well as startups — exhibited back-of-house technology for online food ordering and food delivery platforms. Companies that consult on, set up and operate ghost kitchens were also in force.

The industry wanted to come together again, and we’re thrilled to be back at this must-attend event.

- Orsi Dezsi, Director of Food Equipment Certification

Eco-Friendly Packaging

In addition to the flexibility and convenience of delivery, consumers want sustainable packaging that doesn’t sacrifice sturdiness or temperature control. Exhibitors presented a great array of sustainable packaging, along with new choices in wood-based recyclable tableware. We also spotted new designs in takeout packaging with tamper-proof seals and other features to ensure customer confidence.

Other Responses to the Pandemic

Restaurants continue to recover from COVID-related business challenges. New exhibitors joined familiar ones in offering what’s needed to make the most of patio dining, including outdoor climate control systems and furniture. New sanitation and hygiene equipment and supplies provide more choices in this critical area.

What caught your eye at the show? Let us know how we can help you take food safety and quality further. In the meantime, we’ve begun planning for the National Restaurant Association Show in 2023. See you there!

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