NRA show highlights industry's best
* Click here to view images from the 2007 National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show in Chicago.
 
 
Four days of food, foodservice equipment and industry trends came to a close May 22 as the 2007 National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show wrapped up its 88th year of exhibition.
 
The show's top trends included innovations in technology, green products, trans-fat free cooking oil and international goods and services.
 
"Everybody in this industry comes to the show," said Marc Mushkin, vice president of franchising for Sagittarius Brands. "We believe these shows are critical to getting face-to-face (time) with restaurateurs."
 
Mushkin and an associate were representing Sagittarius' Del Taco and Captain D's concepts at the Franchise Pavilion in Chicago's McCormick Place. From May 19-22, McCormick played host to the largest foodservice show in the Western Hemisphere.
 
Although some exhibitors spoke of the show's diminished attendance — preliminary numbers estimate there were close to 75,000 attendees — Annika Stensson, NRA media relations manager, said general feedback indicated the show was going "really well."
 
Stensson said the decrease in numbers stemmed from the association tightening its attendee rules about 10 years ago and from companies also tightening their budgets. Despite the perceived decrease, it was a record-breaking show in terms of exhibits, which topped out at 2,140.
 
Technology and the environment
 
Stensson said there was a noticeable increase in the number of technology exhibits, with companies such as Micros, Pitco and Digital Dining showcasing the latest in point-of-sale systems and restaurant-equipment technology.
 
A birds-eye view of the 2007 NRA Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show.
Restaurant operators are becoming more interested in business intelligence, said Aaron Allen, president and founder of Heathrow, Fla.-based Quantified Marketing Group.
  
Bob Moreno, vice president of Kansas-based Mr. Goodcents, said he noticed more technology exhibitors at the 2007 show than year's past.
 
"People want great products, great service and a great value. And for us in the restaurant industry we need to have great technology to do that," he said. "With today's advancements (personalization technology) is an essential part of any company today. Technology is a tool to get to good customer service."
 
The Green Restaurant Products Pavilion was another big draw this year, doubling in size compared to last year's pavilion.
 
Bill Gagnon, sales rep for Excel Dryer Inc., said they were one of the first companies to exhibit in the green pavilion.
 
"The NRA is (now) behind it, causing more traffic and more people coming over specifically for green products," he said. "It has doubled in size and we will continue to exhibit here going forward."
 
Biodegradable packaging, compost equipment and environmentally safe sanitation products could also be found outside the pavilion almost in any aisle.
 
New cooking oil products also were in abundance as the industry moves toward trans-fat free foods.
 
"It's not hard to go to zero trans fat, but it's not easy to go to quality zero trans fat," said Kevin Mitchell, marketing manager for Cordova, Tenn.-based ACH Food Companies Inc.
 
ACH was showcasing their latest Frymax line of frying and liquid cooking oils.
 
 
Baked goods were a big draw at this year's NRA Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show.
 
Industry veterans say the industry first moved to partially hydrogenated oil (believed now to cause trans fat) because it was deemed healthier than tallow or lard; however, when trans fats were discovered companies started to look again for healthier alternatives — products using high oleic sunflower or cottonseed oils.
 
National restaurants chains and states have banned trans fats from the majority of their items, but many that provide baked goods are still seeking an alternative. Bakeries in New York must be trans-fat free by the summer of 2008.
 
School days
 
Nancy Kruse's "On the menu: What's Hot, What's Not and What's Next" was one of the most popular educational sessions during the show.
 
Kruse highlighted seven menu trends during her session: flavorful foods; ethnic adventures; healthy perceptions; contemporary comfort; convenient options; affordable indulgence; and culinary fingerprints. (Read also, Menu trends main focus at NRA show.)
 
She also said there is a whole new culinary demographic and travel is playing more of an important role in the consumers' culinary journey.
 
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Other educational sessions included: Alcohol Profit Primer: Responsible Service Without Sacrificing Profits: The Viability of Franchising: Creating a Winning Concept; Legally Managing Your Restaurant; and Curbside To Go: Take the Lead or Suffer the Consequences.
 
The educational seminar, "How to Take a Huge Bite Out of Turnover", sponsored by Colorado Springs, Colo.-based consulting firm CorVirtus, discussed common hiring mistakes and the importance of implementing a standardized hiring system.
 
Among the most common hiring mistakes, according to seminar presenters David Hyatt, Tom Solomon and Chelle Parks, are asking the wrong question of a job candidate, hiring out of desperation and believing personality can be trained.
 
Restaurant owners often cite recruitment and retention as the No. 1 challenge facing the industry. According to the People Report study Workforce 2006, the average cost of replacing an hourly unit-level employee is $2,228, while the average replacement cost of a manager is $19,023.
 
Among the plethora of foodservice products and equipment on display during the show, here's a glimpse of what we saw:
 
Coca Cola showcased its specialty beverage line of products including nojitos, Coke Peach Fizz and the Granny Smith Apple, among others. The specialty beverages mix Coca Cola products with flavored syrups to get their desired taste. For example, the Fresca Pomegranate mixes Fresca, Pomegranate juice and club soda.
 
It was goodies galore at Sweet Street Desserts and their display of trans-fat free baked good items. Items up for taste: cheesecake, cookies, dessert bars and scones. According to the company, dining customers who rank their "overall experience" as highly satisfied increase by 29.7 percent when they order desserts.
 
Concord, New Hampshire-based Pitco introduced its latest design, the Solstice Supreme Gas Fryer. The fryer's ignition procedure enables it to self-clean in 30 seconds, and inverted burners reduce excess air flow, eliminating the need for a blower fan.
Pitco's Solstice Supreme Gas Fryer.
 
Carrier showcased its ChillStar-I.F.R., an Intelligent Food Recognition system that automatically adjusts blast chilling cycles and adjusts blast chilling cycles with its multi-sensor probe. The system is designed to prevent surface freezing and degradation.
 
From Australia and New Zealand comes the B2P kitchen-bacteria testing system, which can test for E. coli and other kitchen bacteria in up to nine hours. Results also can be linked to an automated alarm system or Web-based database for time analysis and reporting. The B2P made its United States premier the NRA show in Chicago.
 
Mt. Sinai, N.Y.-based Wing Dippers displayed their single- or reusable-use chicken wing dipping cups. The cups are shaped in the form of a chicken wing, replacing the usual circular dipping cup. There's a round section in the cup for the drumette and a long section for dipping the flat ends. The dipper received the "Best New Product" award at the 2007 International Restaurant Show of New York.
 
Mission Foodservice introduced two if its newest tortilla creations: Chili Herb and Everything tortillas. They tortillas can be used for everything from Chile Relleno Chimichangas to Smoked Salmon breakfast wraps and a Pesto Chicken Pot Pie Burrito.
 
From Almazaras de la Subbética comes its Rincón de la Subbética olive oil. The olive oil is the only Certified Organic extra virgin olive oil from Spain. The olive oil also has won gold medals for "Best Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil".
 
ACH Food Companies Inc. touted its Frymax line of trans-fat free cooking oil. The Frymax Sun Classic uses a blend of high oleic sunflower and cottonseed oils for frying. Additionally, ACH showcased its Frymax Sun Classic Liquid, liquid shortening use for baked goods.
The new digital menu board from Micros Systems Inc.
 
The Mighty Leaf Tea Company launched its new Tea on Tap iced tea program. Tea on Tap includes a carafe with a shot glass stopper, intended to be filled with flavored syrup, fruit concentrate or garnishes for iced tea customization. Each carafe holds 16 oz. of brewed iced tea.
 
Transparent Systems introduced its Wait Mate pager. The pager includes games and media to entertain patrons while they wait. Companies can display advertising messages on the pagers, which can be changed daily. Additionally, the pagers can be used as a toll to track customer behavior trends.
 
Columbia, Md.-based Micros Systems Inc. displayed its line of point-of-sale solutions for the restaurant industry. Additionally, the company showcased its digital menu-board solution for the quick-serve restaurant segment. The boards update about every 15 seconds to indicate any pricing or menu changes. Updates can be made from one central location and can include only regional changes.
 
From Fetco comes a new Extractor Brewer Series line of products. The line is designed to brew directly into thermal dispensers or a thermal bowl server. The Extractor thermal dispenser can now pour into a half-gallon container; also available is a two-gallon hot water dispenser.
 
Mansfield, Ohio-based Beach Sales & Engineering displayed their latest innovation in floor safety. The Hurricone is a cordless floor drying cone dolly, which holds a standard yellow wet floor cone. The Hurricone blows air outward 360 degrees away from the unit, quickly drying 177 square feet of floor area. The Hurricone has a rechargeable battery which can run for 12 hours on a charge.
 
 
John Andrisin, a representative from Beach Sales & Engineering, displays the Hurricone's motorized fan system.
 
Ashland, Neb.-based KZCO Inc. showcased its I-OpenR touchless trash-receptacle door opener. Each I-OpenR has a trash-level sensor with an LED display that changes color when the receptacle is near full. It also retrofits into existing trash bins.
 
Javo Beverage Co., a San Diego-based manufacturer of  coffee and tea-based dispensed beverages, drink mixes and flavor systems, displayed its new Hyper Caffeinated, Café Blend and Fair Trade Master Blend coffees,  as well as its Carmel Latte, Hazelnut Latte, Red Apple Rooibos Tea, Chai Tea Latte and Horchata de Café line of cold beverages.
 
Latino pizza brand Pizza Patron talked with potential operators in the Franchise Pavilion. The company garnered international media attention last fall with its controversial "Pizza por Pesos" program, where the company began accepting pesos as well as U.S. currency as payment for pizzas. Despite the controversy, Pizza Patron booked a 34 percent growth in sales in 2006.
 
Shakey's Pizza representatives discussed the company's planned comeback at the show. The company, which was founded in 1954, had fallen on hard times in recent years, dropping from more than 30 units in the 1970s to less than 65 stores today. Shakey's CEO Tim Pulido has already begun remodeling stores in hopes of leveraging a near-universal brand awareness to revitalize the chain.
 
From Hospitality Solutions International comes the Profit Series POS. The point-of-sale system can split checks or items, provides instant menu updates and exports data to third-party payroll processors, among other features. The company also displayed its Web Ordering Internet ordering portal and its Enterprise Menu Manager, which enables restaurant modifications  from a central location.
 
SCA Tissue displayed its line of XpressNap napkin dispensers at the show, along with a variety of other products. The one-at-a-time dispenser is available in a stand model with a 900-napkin capacity, an in-counter model with an 800-napkin capacity, and tabletop models with either 200 or 400-napkin capacity. XpressNap dispensers are available in a variety of colors including white, quartz, red, yellow and blue.
 
Chicago-based Read Access introduced two new bump-out style point-of-sale display windows that incorporate 8-inch deep stainless steel shelves designed to display and merchandise food, beverages, and other products at the driver-thru window. The POS display windows are designed to build impulse sales while maintaining good crew visibility and boost transaction times.
 
De Soto, Kan.-based Huhtamaki displayed the Chinet Comfort Cup. The cup features an insulated attached sleeve, dome lid, raised sip area and large graphics for logo placement. The cups also are available in 12-, 16- and 20-oz. sizes.
 
Meritech introduced its Radius by Cleantech product line. The line of hand-hygiene technology washes, rinses and sanitizes hands with an automatic touch-free, 10-second cycle. According to the company, the sanitizing solution kills dangerous pathogens and germs for up to six hours after each handwash cycle.
 
Carrollton, Texas-based oven maker TurboChef Technologies Inc. introduced its latest high-speed conveyor oven at the show. The TurboChef High h Conveyor oven, which can be stacked three high, uses about 30 percent less energy than a traditional conveyor oven, and can cook a medium pizza in about 2½ minutes, according to TurboChef representatives. The oven can be programmed with up to four different cooking profiles, and top and bottom air vents can be adjusted independently.
 
Cellit Mobile Marketing was one of a number of companies displaying the potential of mobile phone marketing. Cellit's messaging platform, Cellit Messaging Studio, can help operators develop innovative promotions and viral marketing. Cellit's clients include Coors Brewing, HSBC Bank and the City of Las Vegas.

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