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What Foodservice Trends Will Affect Grocery?

Industry takeaways from the 2024 National Restaurant Show
Lynn Petrak, Progressive Grocer
NRA Jarritos
The Jarritos beverage brand brought the color to its display at the 2024 National Restaurant Show in Chicago.

The National Restaurant Association Show returned to Chicago from May 18-21 and featured an array of exhibits and presentations with implications for foodservice-at-retail programs and overall research and development efforts. Progressive Grocer visited the show and identified some key trends of note to those in the food retailing business (scroll down for more pics).

Tech to the Rescue

While exhibits at recent NRA shows have drawn crowds for their respective robotics, the realities of the current marketplace spurred a greater emphasis this year on ways that operators can harness technology to save on labor and costs. Those solutions are becoming crucial, as restaurant owners and managers are paying higher wages, including operators in California facing a minimum wage hike to $20 an hour. A company called Restaurant365 unveiled its latest industry training platform and integrated task management program, for example. 

[RELATED: Exciting Trends Emerge From Sweets & Snacks Expo]

Avocados from Mexico (AFM) exhibited for the first time at the NRA show this year, in a booth featuring several tech-enabled displays, including augmented reality demos and a new “Glow Up Your Menu” AI tool that provides instant menu inspiration and insights on avocado and guac-related possibilities. “The system is using three different types of AI technology: one to search the concept to find out what they serve, one to ingest that into another to create the menu ideation and another that will feed it into an image generator,” explained Stephanie Bazan, AFM’s SVP commercial strategy and execution, during a tour of the booth. “At the end, you’ll get three different menu items.”

The Pertinence of Personalization

Tech may be solving problems, but such tools are best for augmenting and easing experiences, experts said during the show. NRA President and CEO Michelle Korsmo pointed to the need for a “high tech, high touch” balance, a point that was echoed in a keynote session with chef, humanitarian and entrepreneur José Andrés. 

Addressing a large crowd on May 20, Andrés noted that the two things essential to life are breathing and eating, a truth for grocers as well as restaurateurs. “Hospitality and the restaurant industry are powerful, and we need to believe we are one. Restaurants are an anchor of hope, and the future of this country and the future of this planet, believe it or not, is in your hands,” he said, adding that food providers can learn and move on from recent disruptions. “Challenges are the opportunities. When everything is not right, or you feel like, ‘Why are we here?’, it’s a challenge but if you think about it, it’s also a good thing. You can quit or just keep going.”

Brands are also taking the human touch to varying levels. During a tour of its popular booth, The Coca-Cola Co.’s Amy  Chaffin, VP foodservice and on-premise channel strategy and planning, spotlighted a variety of efforts centered on improving the human experience, from sustainability efforts aimed at optimizing the circular economy with lighter packaging and better recycling and repurposing to the creation of drinks that please personal palates, including beverages from Coca-Cola’s Freestyle dispensers and custom coffee drinks from the Costa coffee portfolio. The company also introduced visitors to its new Coca-Cola Lens insights platform designed to help retail and foodservice operators make data-driven decisions. That platform uses proprietary tools and data, along with insights from secondary and third-party sources, to bring insights into focus via a digestible, user-friendly website. 

“We have 16 articles that came out all written by internal subject matter experts, in service digital, retail software insights and human insights. It’s channel agnostics and has a very high-level macro view,” explained Melanie Daigle, senior director, segmentation/tools at Coca-Cola.

Cue the Hue

Perhaps because consumers are coming off a challenging era, brands are injecting bright colors and flavors into a variety of products bound for foodservice programs and grocery stores alike. Coca-Cola’s booth, for instance, highlight several colorful new products, including Body Armor Flash I.V., available in flavors like strawberry kiwi, tropical punch and grape. “That is right on trend. How do we get more electrolytes?” said Chaffin.

The Tractor Beverage Co. was all about natural color and flavor when introducing its new organic, non-GMO beverages made with no artificial colors, ingredients, preservatives or artificial sweeteners. The collection includes a line of ready-to-drink organic beverages, in Mango Peach, Strawberry Dragonfruit, Lemonade and Farmer’s Punch flavors. 

A pavilion featuring adult beverages and low/no-alcohol drinks was also a veritable palette, with a slew of brightly-hued drinks designed to hit the right notes among consumers, especially younger consumers who are drinking less alcohol and tend to embrace photo-worthy products. Such trends were visible elsewhere on the show floor, with dozens of bold drinks and colorful food samples.

Equipment makers, too, recognize the ever-important way that shoppers buy with their eyes. In its display, True Refrigeration showcased systems, including retail units, featuring innovative designs for eye-catching merchandising, cold holding temperatures and eco-friendly hydrocarbon refrigerants. 

Sustainability Front and Center

Again this year, the NRA show featured hundreds of sustainable solutions and products, especially in containers for on-the-go consumption and the delivery marketplace.

Cross-Channel Behaviors 

The annual NRA show, while dedicated to foodservice, also showed that consumers continue to buy foods and beverages across channels, with an ongoing blurring of lines between restaurants, retailers and online platforms. R.J. Hottovy, head of analytical research at location intelligence company, pointed out that QSR’s like McDonald’s increasingly view supermarkets as competitors, while convenience stores are enhancing their menu options. “I think food is a big driver for c-stores. There is margin, too, it and you’re starting to see things like more mobile ordering,” he told Progressive Grocer at the show, adding, “It’s also one of the only categories where dwell time is up.” 

Scenes From National Restaurant Show

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