Restaurant Show 2016 Wrap-Up: Food Finds From Restaurateurs

Cleaner, better-for-you and more exotic are impacting the foodservice channel, as well.

By Lauren R. Hartman, Product Development Editor

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NRAShowFloor2016Consumer demands for cleaner ingredients, better-for-you approaches and novel tastes certainly are impacting the packaged food and beverage business. Those same pressures are on restaurants and foodservice, and as a result are on food processors supplying the food-away-from-home channel.

With more than 65,000 attendees, 2,000-plus exhibitors and loads of delectable samples, the annual National Restaurant Assn. Show is a key barometer of those trends. The May expo featured craft sodas, cold coffees, organics in abundance, plant-based proteins, antibiotic-free meats, arrays of cheeses and chocolates, plus free-from foods from companies touting what's not in their products instead of what's actually in them. Consumers also are becoming increasingly interested in the sources of their food and they're relying on restaurants to provide flavorful yet responsible dishes.

While foodservice always has been a lucrative segment for food processors, that point was driven home last year, when foodservice sales surpassed those of grocery stores for the first time. According to a new report from Technomic and marketing firm Acosta, in the past 30 years, consumer spending on foodservice has gone from about 40 percent in 1985 to 50.6 percent in 2015. Retail food's share has declined from 56.5 percent to 49.4 percent, according to the second edition of the report, "The Why? Behind The Dine," which was published in May. This is a significant and costly shift, the report found. Simply put: People are cooking less at home.

Free-from fare

Gluten-free and free-from foods continue to outpace the majority of packaged goods at restaurants, according to NRA exhibitors, while responsible, sustainable and convenient options are also preferred when dining out. And more food companies are opting for free-from assertions in positioning their products. Last year, gluten-free products dominated a few show aisles at the NRA event, while this year, foods free from dairy, nuts and other allergens were spread throughout the hall.

For example, Itaberco (, which makes custom dessert ingredients as well as scrumptious gelato, sorbetto, specialty syrups, soft-serve frozen yogurt and ice cream, was spotlighting dairy-free, sugar-free and low-fat desserts in new flavors such as fig, tiramisu and pecan pie as well as new vegan gelato bases and its line of all-natural colors, flavors and non-GMO ingredients.

In what could be a first, Kiki's Gluten Free Foods ( demonstrated a gluten-free deep-dish pizza. Owner KiKi Michalakos, whose son was diagnosed with celiac disease at an early age, unveiled the quick-bake, deep-dish pizza, which is packaged in a special container to avoid cross-contamination. Wrapped in an ovenable bag at the company's certified gluten-free facility, the individual deep-dish pizza can be baked in the breathable bag to achieve a buttery crust.

Banza ( gluten-, soy- and GMO-free pasta is a high-protein, high-fiber, vegan version made from chickpeas. Barilla America's ( certified gluten-free, non-GMO penne, elbows, rotini and spaghetti taste surprisingly like conventional pasta.

Dairy-free and vegan cheeses at alternative food company Daiya Foods ( included dairy-, lactose- and soy-sensitive versions such as mozzarella-style, "cheddar" and pepper jack-style cheeses and shreds, made from plant-based ingredients. They’re also gluten free.

"Wherever there exists an animal-based food product, there exists an opportunity to create a plant-based alternative," notes co-founder Greg Blake.

Clean and cold

Exhibitors were using more pure cane sugar instead of corn syrup, less fat, more plant proteins and cleaner ingredients. Chefs were moving vegetables to the center of the plate, enhancing them with flavorful sauces and marinades to create interesting main-course veggie dishes.

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