Part of how The Food Channel identifies sustainable food trends is by attendance at the National Restaurant Association Show. This is one of the premier events in the food industry, where you will find new products in food, equipment, and services for everyone who works with food. Chances are good that many of the things we saw at this year’s show will soon be found at a restaurant near you. Here are a few of the things we found intriguing:
- While indulgence has been a theme in recent years, this year it was more prominently about flavor, good service, and listening to the consumer. Many of the trends we saw were health-oriented, which was expected given the move toward healthier ingredients.
- We’ve been talking about Native American food for a while now, and we saw it come to life at this show with products such as salmon bacon, bison jerky, red chile powder, wild chokecherry jelly, wild plum syrup, and more. These are flavors and products that we expect will be added to our food language in the years to come.
- Refrigerated baby food takes our top spot for innovation and filling a gap in the marketplace. The product from Once Upon a Farm is the alternative to either canned baby food or making your own . . . and we hear Millennial parents breathing a sigh of relief that they now have a choice.
- Tipping continues to be a hot topic, as we predicted in our 2015 trends forecast. The solution just may come from an app—Tip Pop is one we saw that is attempting to match up the back end business needs of restaurant management with the consumer’s desire to reward a server for a job well done. Apps and automation in general were kind of a big deal at the show, as more digital equipment begins to supplant human contact in restaurant work. One to watch, for example, is Uber Eats.
- Call us a hardened kitchen crew if you must, but we have to admit to a huge attraction to the wellness mats offered by Smart Step. The mats are technically called therapeutic flooring, meant to soften the constant pressure of being on your feet all day doing kitchen prep. However, we are seeing these back-of-the-house lifesavers showing up in consumer use—even appearing on wedding registries as smart cooks fully equip their kitchens with the best. Forget kitchen rugs and think wellness mats.
- We always get asked about flavors, and so we tasted, tasted, and tasted some more. The flavors that popped up repeatedly were pineapple and pistachio—in the later case, literally a flavor and not just used as a nut topping. We saw them in drinks, desserts and main dishes, particularly as sweet and savory begin to blend together.
- The Habana Coffee, while not technically from Cuba (since exports are still not allowed), is worth watching not only because it tasted great, but also because we expect more Cuban or Cuban-cloned products will be showing up as relations ease and tourism increases between the two countries.
- We liked some of the trendy packaging simply because they caused a why-didn’t-I-think-of-that reaction from people throughout the show: the idea of putting a cup under a bowl, with a straw coming through to the top, giving you a one-handed way to eat your snack and sip your drink was kind of brilliant, and seen in a couple of variations throughout the show.
- Water, which was a huge deal in beverages last year, showed up again with some sophistication, including water flavored with fruit oils. This keeps the flavor in and the calories out, making it attractive. As we looked at beverages, we also loved the move of Boba tea bubbles into fruit flavors, and expect to see more on that scene. In fact, using fruit as a “sweet condiment” was a theme we’ll be exploring more.
- Microgreens may be popping up as garnish, bringing to life another of our earlier trends: edible flowers. We tasted one shoot that had the flavor of sweet corn, making it easy to imagine paired with just about any entrée.
There is a lot more, of course, and we’re happy to share in future trend reports. We have individual stories on some of our favorite finds, which you can find as we add them to foodchannel.com—just search for NRA 2016.
Also see some of The Food Channel staff interviewed during NRA by Joy Robertson, who created this video for the Ozarks Live show that airs on KOLR-TV. It gives you another look at what we thought was on trend at the show!