Jill Failla
Jill Failla is a Foodservice Analyst at Mintel. She creates US Foodservice Reports and contributes to Mintel’s Menu Insights database.

This year marked the 100th annual National Restaurant Association (NRA) Show taking place in Chicago. Mintel Foodservice Analyst Jill Failla attended the largest single gathering of restaurant and foodservice professionals. Here, we share four foodservice trends that emerged from the show floor:

Innovative seafood applications come into view

Seafood has long been heralded as a healthy foodservice option, and food scientists are now finding ways to use fish to transform more traditionally indulgent categories. Trident Seafoods is offering consumers a “new way to get hooked on protein” with its 10-gram Protein Noodles debuted at the show. Made with sustainable Wild Alaska Pollock, the gluten-free, non-GMO noodles was one of the most innovative products at the show. They cater to contemporary Keto and Paleo diets with seven grams of carbs per serving, and the added benefit of 10 grams of protein and 70 milligrams of Omega-3 fatty acids. The noodles didn’t have a “fishy” flavor, but instead tasted like a fresh and neutral addition to the spicy Szechuan ingredients they were paired with.

Canada-based Simply West Coast uses its Ocean Wise-certified wild caught salmon as a replacement for a variety of pork and beef products, such as bacon and ham, and a jerky currently in development. The smoked ham-style salmon comes fully cooked, while the bacon is available fresh and requires cooking. The brand also offers salmon nuggets in original, maple, cracked Italian pepper, and roasted chili pepper varieties.

Plant-based seafood takes off

More brands are developing plant-based renditions of seafood favorites, such as sushi, shrimp, and tuna. While nearly six in 10 consumers consider fish to be healthy (tied with chicken as the healthiest among all proteins), only one in 10 think it’s environmentally friendly, according to Mintel US research on fish and shellfish. The desire for more sustainable, environmentally-friendly fare is helping to drive the plant-based momentum into the seafood category.

At last year’s show, Mintel called out Ocean Hugger Foods’ sustainable Ahimi, a plant-based raw tuna alternative made from tomatoes, and this year, Ocean Hugger came back with Unami, a plant-based eel alternative made from eggplant, for which the taste and texture are about as skillfully executed as the brand’s flagship Ahimi.

New Wave Foods has offered sustainable plant-based shrimp made from seaweed and soy for a few years now. The shrimp alternative is currently only available in foodservice, such as the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s cafe.

Good Catch is developing fish-free tuna and tuna sliders, all made with protein from six different legumes, including peas and chickpeas. The company already sells through select online retailers and is currently expanding into foodservice operations. The fish-free tuna also contains 350 milligrams of DHA, a type of Omega-3 fatty acid.

Veggies crop up in unexpected places

As long as children have been picky eaters, parents have sought out creative ways to include vegetables in their diets, Now more than ever before, nutritious vegetables are popping up in new categories and products, including some standouts from this year’s show: bread, pizza crust, and pâtés – all considered more indulgent by today’s standards due to carbohydrates or processed meat.

Daily Kneads’ Whole Grain Vegetable Bread contains a full serving of vegetables in every serving of bread. Varieties include carrot and pumpkin, spinach and leek, sweet beet, tomato and basil, and red pepper.

Venice Bakery first launched its cauliflower pizza crust last year, but this year, it’s moved beyond the popular pizza dough replacement to expand into other gluten-free, vegetable-based options, including beetroot, sweet potato, and zucchini pizza crusts.

Easy Montali is an Italian brand offering a vegetable-based lineup of pâtés, marketed for sandwiches, charcuterie, and bite-sized appetizers. Varieties include artichoke, pepper, mushroom and truffle, sundried tomato, spicy harissa, and black olive.

Beyond frosé

Rosé and its frozen sister beverage, frosé, were the definitive “it” drink of summer 2017. It was so popular that restaurants began adding brightly lit “Rosé All Day” and “Yes Way, Rosé” signage in their stores, helping transform the beverage into a lifestyle. The refreshing frosé spinoff certainly has the strongest appeal during warmer spring and summer months, but consumers have a short attention span, and other new frozen cocktails are hitting the marketplace for summer 2019.

Kelvin Slush Co. is a New York-based brand with a handful of organic, frozen craft cocktails for foodservice; yes, they have a crowd-pleasing frosé, but they also offer a frozen organic Paloma, Negroni, and “Cold” Fashioned. In a more mainstream play, The ICEE Company is bringing a handful of frozen cocktails to the noncommercial foodservice space, such as movie theaters and sporting venues. These include frozen rosé, of course, as well as frozen mules, frozen Jack & Coke and frozen mojitos.