Top 3 food and beverage trends from NRA Show 2017

More than 2,000 exhibiting companies displayed their wares at the 2017 National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show, held May 20-23 in Chicago. Here’s a look at three of the top trends from the show floor:

Plants that eat like meat

Plant proteins have been gaining popularity for years, and there was an impressive array on display at this year’s NRA Show. Beyond Meat won a FABI Award from the National Restaurant Association this year for its Beyond Burger, which is made from pea protein. Curious show attendees lined up for a taste of the soy- and gluten-free burger that gets its red color from beets. The brand partners with restaurants such as Veggie Grill and sells patties at about 360 Whole Foods locations that stock the product in the meat aisle -- a first for a plant-based burger. The Jackfruit Company showed off a variety of flavors of its shredded jackfruit, which has a texture similar to pulled pork. With varieties such as BBQ and Teriyaki, it can be used as a sandwich filling or in a rice bowl.


Ahimi from Ocean Hugger Foods (Photo: Tricia Contreras)

Plant-based seafood isn’t as common as veggie analogs for pork or beef, but Ocean Hugger Foods made a splash at the Show with its tuna substitute made from tomatoes, Ahimi. Developed by chef James Cornwell, the product consists of cooked tomatoes that are marinated to give them a fresh flavor reminiscent of ahi tuna. Ahimi is available in small chunks that could be used to create poke bowls, or larger pieces intended for sushi. The company is currently developing a salmon substitute made from carrots and an eel look-alike made from eggplant to further its mission to “offer a sushi-like experience for people that goes beyond a cucumber,” Senior Sales Executive Max Corwell said.

A higher standard for eggs

Cage-free eggs are a hot topic in the foodservice industry as more companies lay the groundwork to source only cage-free eggs. Just about every major restaurant chain and grocery store has pledged to source only cage-free eggs by 2025, and many brands exhibiting at the Show have made efforts to overhaul their egg sourcing or are in the process of doing so. The issue is one rising to the top of consumers’ lists of concerns, with 98.2% of consumers saying they want the restaurants they visit to have a policy on egg sourcing, NRA Conserve director Jeff Clark said in a session on sustainable sourcing.

Sweet Street Desserts won a FABI Award this year for its Manifesto line of bars and cookies made with cage-free eggs, and breakfast cookie company Susie’s Smart Cookie is in the process of transitioning to cage-free eggs. Founder Susie Allport said egg sourcing is “a cause I believe in,” and would have sourced cage-free eggs from the start if they had been available. Availability of cage-free eggs still needs to catch up with projected demand, which could prove difficult as egg producers find it difficult to cover the cost of converting to cage-free operations, United Egg Producers said in April.

While most restaurants and food brands are raising the bar with cage-free eggs, some manufacturers are setting their sights even higher and upgrading to pasture-raised eggs. Cage-free chickens get about 1 square foot of living space (compared to less than half a foot for conventional laying birds), but pasture-raised hens are permitted to roam and have more than 100 square feet each, said Kathryn McKeon, Director of Marketing for Vital Farms.The company’s pasture-raised eggs will be in 10,000 retailers by year’s end and partnerships are in the works with a handful of food manufacturers who “know there is a better option than cage-free,” she said.

New drinks on tap

On-tap beverage options are expanding far beyond beer and wine, which is gaining popularity as more restaurants and bars discover quality wines that come outside the bottle. An extension of kegged wine, two companies displayed their on-tap sangria offerings at this year’s Show. Swashbuckler Sangria from Biagio Cru is a fruity red mixture from Spain with strong spice notes that give it a bold flavor even when served over ice. Tiki Sangria is a lighter option, clocking in at 6% ABV, which makes it “sessionable,” according to Joshua Preston of importer Lost Vineyards. A white wine version will hit the market in the summer, he said.

Coffee and tea were also flowing from taps on the show floor. Nitro coffee gets a smooth texture from an infusion of nitrogen gas that creates a foamy head. Bunn debuted its NitronN2 tap that dispenses cold brew coffee made from concentrate as either a flat or nitrogen-infused brew. Tea company B.W. Cooper’s showed off its new tea tap, as well as a new line of sparkling fountain teas that just launched in 7-Eleven stores. Health-Ade Kombucha has offered its products on tap for about three years, and about 100 restaurants, hotels and health clubs offer the tangy, fermented teas on draft.

Beer may be the original draft beverage, but Reverse Tap is putting a new spin on it with its system that fills glasses from the bottom to minimize waste and save time. The system, which can be used with beer or nitro coffee, launched in the US last year. The specially designed cups, available in glass or plastic, fill quickly without foaming over and the units can be programmed so customers can fill their own drinks after scanning a QR code.

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