National Restaurant Association Show 2023 serves up a Smörgåsbord of treats

See what stood out for the NSF team at The National Restaurant Association (NRA) Show in Chicago.

This was the second National Restaurant Association show since the world reopened after the pandemic. Last year energy levels were sky high as people reconnected in person once again. This year seemed a little more serious as exhibitors and visitors were focused on identifying opportunities to grow their businesses.

There’s no denying that the restaurant industry is facing some big challenges. With a necessity to be resilient, the themes that stood out were balancing value for money with innovation, sustainability, and responsiveness to customer needs. Here’s what we saw.

Sustainability: A Catalyst for Innovation

The desire to be more mindful of planet health was evident across all aspects of the show. Energy efficiency credentials of equipment were showcased, PFAS-free food packaging was more prevalent, and the discussion on how to respond to the sustainability needs of consumers continued aloud.

In the food sections, we saw a growing number of upcycled foods seeking to reduce food waste. Innovation in plant-based foods showed no signs of slowing down. And whilst last year the boom in plant-based meats was noticeable, this year we saw numerous innovations elsewhere, most noticeably in plant-based and vegan egg substitutes. Some very nearly resembled the “real” thing with sample dishes of eggs benedict being served up with vibrant yellow runny yolks!

Mixing Things Up With Personalization

Responding to consumers’ increasing desire to experiment and try new things, personalization is a growing phenomenon. Drink companies showcased digital beverage stations that enable consumers to mix drinks together to conjure up unique combinations. They also give brands real time insights into consumer preferences helping them to predict the tastes of tomorrow.

Elsewhere, sauce and condiment companies are following a similar path, designing equipment stations that enable consumers to mix sauces to create their own flavors that will tantalize their tastebuds!

Technology and Tradition

In an industry that revolves around people, recruitment remains tough. In response, more and more commercial food equipment included options to automate. Robotic equipment was featured, although it was possibly not as prevalent as we might have expected.

Meanwhile there was still a heavy presence of more traditional restaurant products at the show. Silverware/cutlery, pots, pans, and dinnerware all featured strongly. Whilst these items might not be considered at the cutting edge of innovation, the food safety credentials of these products are just as important as they are for more sophisticated equipment such as pasta machines, meat slicers or refrigerated display units. NSF standard 2, updated in 2022, covers the sanitation credentials of these products and we predict a growth in certification of them in the near future.

Restaurants continue to look to invest into digital solutions to deliver greater efficiencies. These included digital menu systems, online delivery systems, apps to help control inventory and waste, and numerous technologies designed to better manage aspects of food safety such as temperature.

An Unquenched Thirst for Knowledge

Whilst technology is getting smarter, with AI for example, visitors remain passionate about learning so they have the knowledge they need to perform their jobs effectively and safely. At the NSF booth, inquiries about training in food safety were noticeably higher than last year.

We also received hugely positive feedback from visitors on our soon-to-launch online training courses that provide an introduction of food equipment sanitation standards. The impact of “The Great Resignation” combined with the arrival of a new cohort of software engineers and entrepreneurs in the commercial food equipment industry have likely fed this demand. What’s more, it’s apparent that the basics of sanitary design cannot be ignored, whether it’s a for a restaurant robot or a cup for your coffee!

Looking Ahead

If you visited us at the show, thank you. We enjoyed meeting you. It was great to talk to so many of our clients, too. And thank you to those who displayed the NSF placard on your booth making NSF a brand that was visible throughout the event! We are already looking forward to next year!

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