The packaging, manufactured by Little Falls, N.Y.-based Burrows Paper Corp., is stronger and lighter than traditional cardboard pizza boxes and can be easily imprinted with an operator's logo.
The Expo, held Sept 19-20 at the Baltimore Convention Center, featured industry trends ranging from new ways to save on your energy bill to better ways of keeping your drink cold.
Particularly popular were environmentally-friendly products like Mean Green Cleaner, as well as services that promoted sustainability and energy efficiency.
"That is definitely a mega-trend that is coming through," said Licia Spinelli, vice president of marketing and special events for the Restaurant Association of Maryland (RAM), the organization that produced the show. "Healthy living, environmental consciousness and renewable, sustainable products were all very popular this year."
Among the products displayed, Odenton, Md.-based KeyImpact Sales & Systems featured plates and packaging that decompose in less than 60 days in a landfill.
Organic produce was one of several environmentally-minded displays at the 2007 Mid-Atlantic Expo.
"The idea of using environmentally friendly products is getting out to operators and pretty soon everyone is going to be riding the wave," said Tom Ryan, supply specialist with KeyImpact Sales & Systems.
Fountain Valley, Calif.-based Noritz displayed a high-efficiency tankless water heater that can cut energy usage 35 percent or more compared with traditional water heaters.
"Generally, our water heater delivers about a 30-50 percent savings, depending on what your load is and what you have in there now," said Jason Fleming, national sales manager with Noritz. "This can save you space, it can save energy, and you can put them virtually anywhere you want, even hanging on a wall
Local products on display
Because the show was held in Baltimore, local vendors including Bluebird Artisinal Coffee Roasters and seafood purveyor Phillips Foods Inc. were popular stops for attendees. The booth manned by Westminster, Md.-based Chilldisc LLC, which makes products such as a bar-top drink chiller, also was a popular stop.
POS innovations and handheld devices were other hot items at the show.
Silver Spring, Md.-based Action Systems Inc. displayed its Write-On Handheld, a device that uses handwriting recognition to function as an order pad.
The Write-On Handheld recognizes a server's handwriting and displays a list of menu choices as the server writes on the device. The server then selects the item from the list.
"We are able to take what is basically a simple PDA and turn it into a pad and paper that a server would use," said Jean Kline, marketing associate with Action Systems Inc.
Using the Write-On Handheld, servers can jot down an order and send it to the kitchen with a tap of their stylus. The device cuts out the need for a server to enter the order into the restaurant's POS system after taking it at the table. The device also can connect to an optional card reader for pay-at-the-table credit card functionality.
"A lot of these new tools we wouldn't have dreamed of 10 years ago," Spinelli said. "It's all about running a more efficient kitchen."
Show hits record numbers
The Expo drew more than 11,000 attendees over the course of two days, a nearly 40 percent increase over last year's show, Spinelli said. Nearly 300 companies exhibited their wares at the show as well.
"We had 401 booths and 275 exhibiting companies, which is a 13 percent increase over last year," Spinelli said. "This was the first time we utilized all of the booth space on the floor."
Jason Fleming stands next to the Noritz Tankless water heater.
Proceeds from the show support the Maryland Hospitality Education Foundation. The Restaurant Association of Maryland created the foundation to assist high-school students considering careers in the foodservice industry.
The foundation promotes foodservice industry training, food safety and alcohol awareness, and funds a scholarship program.
Particularly successful, Spinelli said, was a program where the association partnered with exhibitors to distribute free admission tickets. Exhibitors could purchase personalized tickets with their company logo, contact information and booth number.
"We had probably over 2,500 restaurants attended who weren't invited by show management at all, but were invited by companies through these free admission tickets," Spinelli said. "That was a great tool for their salespeople out in the field."
Spinelli has already started to plan for next year's show. One issue she hopes to address, she said, is the need for greater diversity among exhibitors.
"That is a focus of mine specifically for next year," she said. "We have very large growing populations of new entrepreneurs of various ethnic backgrounds, and it is difficult to reach out to them. I am hoping to find some of the right partners in the coming year."