NRA Show 2015 post record exhibit space and growth in key attendee categories
Jun 04, 2015

NRA Show 2015 post record exhibit space and growth in key attendee categories, giving restaurateurs a taste of what will be the next big hit in the foodservice industry

The 96th annual NRA Show, recently held at Chicago’s McCormick Place on 16-19 May, posted record exhibit space and a 3% uptick in registration in the key buyer category of restaurant and foodservice operators.

As the most comprehensive event for the foodservice industry, NRA Show 2015 brought a diverse range of industry segments together under one roof. In addition to thousands of independent and chain restaurateurs, NRA Show attendance included 100% of the top 50 restaurant brands in the world e 98 of the top 100 restaurant brands. Represented brands included Compass, Aramark, Sodexo, Delaware North, Centerplate, Sysco, TriMark, Wasserstrom, Edward Don, Publix and Mariano’s.

At more than 60,000 square meters, total exhibit space grew by more than 8% and exceeded the previous NRA Show record that was set in 2000. More than 63,000 registrants hailed from more than 100 countries and the restaurant operator category saw the highest percentage of growth (3%), followed by the Hospitality category with an increase of 2%.

“The energy and excitement of our industry coming together to shop, learn, connect and discover was palpable in every conversation, transaction and presentation that took place here.” said John Metz, Jr., 2015 NRA Convention Chair and Executive Chef, CEO and Co-founder of Marlow’s Tavern.

The exhibit floor was a great place to spot new trends and to identify several old trends still going strong. Some of the top highlights from the show floor were:

Edible 3D printing

3D printing moves beyond toys, tools and prosthetic limbs. 3D Systems, which invented 3D printing in 1983, worked with the Culinary Institute of America to introduce its technology to the culinary world at the NRA Show. Its professional-grade, stainless steel culinary printer creates candy, cake toppings and other sweet treats. Restaurants, bakeries and bars can create their own designs or download them from archived sources. For the orchid cupcake toppers, 3DS downloaded a 3D scan of a rare orchid from the Smithsonian Insitution, then altered the size and color, says culinary creative director Kyle von Hasseln.

Robots are among us

Among various new and futuristic pieces of equipment present at the exhibit floor, tech lovers could meet Baxter. He came to the NRA Show to demonstrate how the kitchen of the future will be. Thanks to Pitco, a fryer, rethermalizer and pasta cooker manufacturer, Baxter was created. “An automated cooking process by robots can improve product consistency and operational efficiency”, says Pitco rep Bob Brown. "Baxter is not in restaurants yet, but based on the amount of interest, it's coming soon."

Plant-made plates

Platters, plates, pie pans and more made from root vegetables can help reduce food waste. Several sustainable companies were present at the exhibit floor this year, including Biosphere Technology, which makes serving and bakeware from vegetables raised in compost from one of its Chamness Technology sister companies. The plates break down in 20 to 40 days in nature and less than 30 days in the ocean, with no toxicity. "People can eat them, animals can eat them, and worms in the compost can eat them." While the ice cream serving cup is flavored (chocolate, of course!), most are unflavored. The products can be customized to restaurant specifications and embossed with corporate logos. For example, the company created a special mold to make pie pans with air vents in the bottom for Whole Foods. The pans are embossed with the Whole Foods logo and can go from the freezer to an oven up to 429 degrees F to a display case.

Data Security

Recent high-profile data breaches at major retailers have restaurants concerned about making sure their customers’ payment information stays secure. An example of companies making a stamp in this arena is California-based MagTek. The company demonstrated its payment system, which immediately encrypts cards when they’re swiped and sends immediate alerts when a card may be fraudulent. Rather than focusing on card numbers, the system reads the unique pattern of magnetic particles on cards.

Personalized marketing

The more restaurants know about their guests, the more they can improve the guest experience. Several exhibitors offered tools to help restaurants customize their offerings based on past guest behavior among them Massassuchetts-based Paytronix. The company was exhibiting a system that integrates with restaurant POS systems and allows restaurants to market to individual guests via e-mail, text or social media, based on what the guest prefers. “If you make your marketing more relevant, you’re going to have more significant returns,” said Jim Guest, a sales representative for Paytronix.

Ethnic cuisine

New research the NRA is conducting on consumer attitudes toward ethnic cuisine, set for release this summer, showed that three-quarters of consumers say they like when mainstream restaurants serve ethnic cuisine, and 66 percent eat a wider variety of ethnic cuisines now than they did five years ago. Among the many international brands present at show floor, attendees could find: Grecian Delight Foods, Hormel Foods Corporation, Lee Kum Kee, Kronos Foods, Malaysian Trade Commission, San-J International, Thai Feast LLC and Japanese Restaurant Organization.

Eco-friendly food

In the same research set to be released during summer, NRA identified that three in five consumers say they are more likely to visit a restaurant that offers organic or environmentally friendly food. Consumers who make efforts to reduce their carbon footprint in other areas of their lives look to reconcile their food choices into that pattern. Eco-friendly brands at the exhibit floor included Promarisco (Ecuador), Wines of Brasil (Brazil), Green Tokyo (Japan), ACE Bakery (Canada) Teart (Chile), Environmental Products and Services (U.K.), Dawn Food Products (U.S.A.) e Sysco (U.S.A.)..
Innovation is the name of the game

Showcasing innovative and promising advancements, Startup Alley, which debuted this year, is an area where startup restaurant technology companies were able to showcase their products and services. Companies demonstrated app-based delivery, live-streaming online music, geo-location job seeking, and interactive digital displays, among others. Featured companies included Diner’s Dream, an app that allows customers to call their server or get their bill. Other companies included ChouxBox, a web-based invoice-management system, and Apploi, a job-search and hiring app that uses geo-location tools to find jobs nearby and allows users to apply for jobs without a resume. “The tech side of the industry is really starting to gain a lot of traction,” said Leana Salamah, senior director of convention marketing communications and programming for the NRA.

Time for Tea

Specialty iced tea was among the top trends identified by NRA’s What’s Hot Forecast for 2015. From artisanal teas to flavored iced teas, all types of teas and gadgets related to tea consumption were represented on the exhibit floor. Tea continues to gain popularity for being a healthier beverage choice and among the highlights were Art of Tea, one of the companies at the show with more than 140 blends and TEART, winner of the Food and Beverage Innovation Award. TEART was promoting its new product that consists of a patented conic disposable infuser that adapts to any sized paper cup and is filled with 3g of premium loose-leaf tea. It combines the operational simplicity of tea bags with the premium loose-leaf flavors and aromas of the traditional tea pot.

Some like it hot

Several beers brewed with peppers, pepper-infused tequila and an ancho-chili whisky were featured in this year’s event. “Everybody’s leaning toward the spicy side,” says restaurant consultant David Leith, soon to open the Green Bean restaurant. The pepper-infused grain spirits make great cocktails, such as an ancho-whisky Bloody Mary, and the beers could glaze bratwurst and other sausages, he says. Heat is also popular among garnish makers, says Pat Trevino, vice president, marketing and business development, Twang Partners. The family-owned company from San Antonio specializes in big flavor, Trevino says. “We’re from South Texas!” Twang highlighted margarita salt made with hatch chilis from New Mexico, as well as sweet-heat combos, such as mango chili and watermelon-jalapeno cocktail rimmers.

The NRA Show 2016 will be held on 21-24 May at McCormick Place. For more information, please visit

# # # #

National Restaurant Association

Founded in 1919, the National Restaurant Association is the leading business association for the restaurant industry, which is comprised of 945,000 restaurant and foodservice outlets and a work force of nearly 13 million employees. Together with the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation, the Association works to lead America’s restaurant industry into a new era of prosperity, prominence, and participation, enhancing the quality of life for all we serve. For more information, visit our Website at

Tatiana Vieira Green
+1 (312) 836-1047