Amanda Topper
Amanda Topper is the Associate Director of Foodservice Research, responsible for overseeing all of Mintel’s foodservice offerings, as well as providing insight and competitive analysis across scheduled deliverables, and client and industry presentations.

The annual National Restaurant Association (NRA) Show took place in Chicago May 19-22, 2018 bringing together more than 67,000 global foodservice professionals. Mintel’s Associate Director of Foodservice Research, Amanda Topper, brings you five observations from the show floor.

Floral Flavors

Floral flavors appeared across a variety of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. This past weekend’s royal wedding cake featured an elderflower and lemon flavor, which was also seen in several sparkling water products. Belvoir Fruit Farms sampled its Elderflower and Rose Lemonade containing 100% pressed fruit juice and lightly sparkling water. Found Beverage Company sampled its Elderflower naturally sparkling water, while Petal Sparkling Botanicals made its NRA Show debut with its line of sparkling botanical blends. The organic sparkling beverages are available in Original Rose, Mint Rose, and Lychee Rose varieties. Floral waters are not only an appealing beverage on their own, they are also ideal cocktail mixers. The incidence of waters as an ingredient in cocktails increased 10% from Q1 2016-18, according to Mintel Menu Insights.

Owl’s Brew promoted new packaging for its alcoholic beverage mixers, including its Strawberry Manhattan variety featuring Darjeeling Tea, Strawberry and Hibiscus. The brand’s Radler line combines beer and tea, with a similar profile in its ‘That’s My Jam’ option combining darjeeling tea, strawberry, hibiscus, and amber ale.

A Robot Can Do It

As identified in 2018 US Foodservice Trend, The Need for Speed, time-strapped diners value convenience and affordability and operators are leveraging technology advances to meet this need. Robots and automated machines studded the show floor, including automatic bartenders like Somabar, Barsys, and Cocktails Machine which create a variety of craft cocktails using pre-loaded ingredients. Generation Next trialed its frozen yogurt vending machine, while Bear Robotics showed off its robot “Penny” that can act as a restaurant busboy or server.

What’s Old is New

New formats of familiar ingredients were seen on the show floor such as the Beet Salsa from Love Beets made of beets, peppers, onion, tomato, and cilantro. Beets continue to be a trendy menu ingredient, growing 14% from Q1 2016-18, according to Mintel Menu Insights. Golden Fresh showed off its Red Velvet Prawns encrusted with beetroot infused bread crumbs.

One of the more innovative uses of an existing ingredient was the Pork Panko from Bacon’s Heir. The gluten-free alternative to bread crumbs are made from Bacon’s Heir’s pork rinds which it also sells as a separate packaged snack.

Social Media Flare

Mintel’s 2018 US Foodservice Trend, Feed The Feed, highlights how social media is impacting the types of foods and beverages being crafted for social sharing. Younger consumers are especially driving this trend with 63% of Millennials agreeing they enjoy taking photos of their food. Coffee shop menu items are especially susceptible to social media sharing. Cheese tea, a tea creation from China where a whipped cream cheese layer is added to tea beverages, made an appearance at the show. S&D Coffee sampled a Blueberry Citrus Cream Tea; the foamy layer provided an appealing presentation, as did the swirl of cream as the foamy top is stirred into the tea.

Coffee in a Cone, the self-proclaimed “World’s Most Ingragrammable Coffee,” was represented at the show. The concept, which originated in a South African coffee shop, is now a turnkey solution where operators can create coffee cones via a step-by-step process. With 54% of social media users visiting coffee shops at least once a week, compared to 35% of non-social media users, coffee shops and social media make a great pairing.

Sustainable Alternatives

Some 76% agree plant-based proteins are healthy, while more than half (53%) agree plant-based foods are better for the environment than animal-based options. Plant-based alternatives were plentiful at the show’s Organic & Natural Pavilion. Just Foods served up its Just Scramble, an egg-alternative made from a mung bean. The “eggs” cook up similarly to a traditional egg, and feature a similar taste, texture, and nutritional profile.

Other plant-based proteins emerged from new and existing category players. Before the Butcher served its soy-based B4Burger and pulled pork, while Impossible Burger grilled up sliders and meatballs. Beyond Meat promoted its sausages, including its Brat Original, and the upcoming launch of its vegan breakfast sausage arriving in stores this fall.

Ocean Hugger Foods sampled a variety of uses of its Ahimi, a plant-based raw tuna alternative made from tomatoes, while UK-based Mozza Risella sampled its organic vegan cheese free from a list of allergens including casein, gluten, and soy, and made from sprouted brown rice.