The annual National Restaurant Association (NRA) Show took place in Chicago this past week and, as always, was filled with delicious food, and food for thought. Here, Mintel’s US Foodservice Analysts explore four foodservice trends that emerged from the show: 1. A focus on automation Automation in restaurants remains a core focus for the industry and several innovations on the show floor demonstrated how automation can streamline operations. As discussed in Mintel’s 2017 Foodservice Trend “Automated Nation,” technological innovations that add convenience and streamline the dining out experience are disrupting traditional restaurant service models amid rising labor costs. Machines and robots designed to make the user experience quick and convenient included Frobot, a frozen yogurt vending machine, and the Reverse Tap dispenser that fills 12 cups of beer from the bottom up in one minute. Another beer innovation, Pour My Beer, is a self-serve beer tap that allows patrons to try multiple types of beer and monitor their consumption. Other machines help aid in food preparation, including Sally, the salad making robot with thousands of possible ingredient combinations, as well as machines that aid in sushi burrito, maki or nigiri making. These innovations not only help reduce food waste, but also minimize labor costs and maximize efficiency and convenience. 2. Taps are the future for coffee and tea Both draft coffee and tea beverages were well represented at this year’s show. Nitro coffee has been trending in both foodservice and retail, but is still not widely available. However, nitro may finally break into mainstream as major coffee distributors such as S&D Coffee and Tea and Royal Cup Coffee and Tea showed off their nitro coffee varieties. Rishi Tea unveiled Rishi Tea Brew, an all-natural, cold-brewed, kegged, fizzy tea. 3. Experiential desserts draw a crowd As the saying goes, there’s always room for dessert and the most basic desserts are often the ones stealing the show. Sweet Street’s Cookie-Pie Rave, a shareable cookie pie, drew crowds during the NRA show with consumers eager to get a warm slice of chocolate chunk or salted caramel crunch cookies. Cookie pie is nothing new, but it provides a simple and familiar comfort that can create a memorable dessert for diners. Another foodservice operator is hitting on one of the most nostalgic elements of baking, which is eating raw cookie dough. Total Cluster Fudge served up egg-less cookie dough that could be simply eaten by the spoonful or baked for a traditional cookie experience. Mintel’s 2017 Foodservice Trend “The Experience Dichotomy” discusses that more consumers are seeking out experiential elements when they dine out. While experiences can often bring something new to the table, they can also focus on memorable experiences that consumers enjoy reliving. Extravagant presentation can also go a long way for desserts, especially in today’s social media driven world. Based on how many photos were being snapped of Weston Foods’ Donut Wall, there’s always new ways to showcase familiar desserts . 4. More alternatives to traditional CSDs The carbonated soft drink (CSD) market faces continued stagnation as consumers ditch sodas for more healthful beverages. As such, many major companies are throwing more weight behind alternatives to traditional CSDs. Pepsi highlighted its premium Stubborn Soda brand, which includes products made without artificial flavors, sweeteners or high fructose corn syrup. Smaller brands were also represented at the show. Sipp Eco Beverage Co. sampled their line of organic, agave sweetened sodas that came in unique flavors, such as Ruby Rose (grapefruit and rosemary) and Zesty Orange (blood orange and jalapeño). One of the most noteworthy beverages at the show was Coca Cola’s new aguas frescas brand Barrilitos. These flavorful water drinks come in familiar fruit flavors, as well as more traditional Mexican varieties such as horchata. With beverages offering operators such high margins, operators are looking for natural, healthful beverages to curtail water purchases. Photos taken by Mintel’s US Foodservice Analyst team at NRA Show 2017. 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. She was previously a Senior Analyst specializing in the retail food industry. Diana Kelter is a Foodservice Analyst at Mintel. Diana authors reports focusing on changing consumer attitudes, industry news, and flavor/ingredient trends within foodservice. Diana also specializes in leveraging menu data from Mintel Menu Insights database. Caleb Bryant is a Senior Foodservice Analyst at Mintel. Caleb authors reports focusing on changing consumer attitudes, industry news and flavor/ingredient trends within foodservice. You might also be interested in: 5 trends spotted at NACS Show 2017 It’s officially pumpkin spice season C-store food: What’s driving purchases?