4 big questions raised by the National Restaurant Association Show

Photo by Jonathan Maze

Restaurant owners could find just about anything they needed at the annual industry convention, except for the answers to a few questions raised by the show itself. Here are some of the general questions that struck us as we walked around the room or spoke with attendees, each presented in the way an operator might have asked.

Q We can’t get all the supplies we need from our suppliers, but many of those same companies were exhibiting at the show hoping to land more orders. What’s up with that?

A. You seek reason in a situation that challenges it. Restaurant supply chain issues are widely compared to a game of Whack-A-Mole, as shortages of one item or another tend to pop up, throwing everyone into a scramble for substitutes. , then to disappear as quickly as they occurred. If there is a pattern, wiser minds than ours have yet to spot it.

There doesn’t seem to be a single bottleneck either. The problem can arise anywhere in the journey, from the raw material stage to the backdoor of a restaurant, and the variables seem to be constantly changing. Suppliers can be as much at the mercy of upstream parties as operators.

The emerging best practice is to increase the number of sources a trader can leverage for a product. The exhibitors were simply eager to help in this process.

Q Several speakers at the show cited Hawaiian cuisine as an emerging trend on menus. Were you as surprised as we were to hear that?

A. Yes, to be frank. Our menu gurus have adamantly admitted they haven’t seen it, or at least not yet. A member of our team suggested that the wave will never get bigger than putting pineapple on a pizza, which is why we don’t let him write many menu stories.

The issue appears to be what observers call a Hawaiian trend.

Restaurant concepts originating on the islands have surely been in growth mode – think of the number of hangouts that sprung up just before the pandemic hit. Likewise, stands of crushed ice have arrived here and there on the continent. And Hawaiian Bros. Island Grill, a 30-unit concept specializing in Hawaiian-style lunch plates, ranked as the fastest growing chain in Technomic’s latest Top 500 list.

Thus, the trend mentioned by the speakers of the show seems more a reference to Hawaiian concepts accelerating their growth, and not to poi becoming the next boba tea.

Q Every other booth in the show seemed to be selling some sort of herbal item. Is this the mega-trend it seems to be?

A. Yes and no. Between 8% and 9% of consumers want to find a vegetable element on the menu, according to a new study released by Technomic at the start of the show. According to the researcher, this group of analog consumers is too large for a mainstream channel to ignore, but it is not large enough to drive universal adoption, in the same way the industry has embraced hamburgers. or sodas.

Customers who follow a vegan or heavily vegan diet are extremely adventurous, said Carin Stutz, CEO of all-vegan chain Native Foods, during an educational session on the meat analogy trend.

As a result, the lounge was full of plant-based items that went way beyond burgers. Exhibitors offered everything from cutting-edge fish sandwiches to meatless steaks.

Q Was there consensus on the impact of inflation?

A. Oh, yeah, and that wasn’t encouraging. Technomic noted that menu prices are skyrocketing at the fastest rate in 40 years. “We have reached new heights. The question is: how do consumers react? asked Joe Pawlak, chief executive of the research firm.

The sticker shock was tempered in part by the prevalence of inflation, according to Pawlak. “Consumers react to overall inflation, not just menu prices,” he explained. “The price of everything seems to be going up.”

Indeed, 8 out of 10 consumers worry about the effects of inflation on all aspects of their lives.

But this is already triggering a certain tightening on the part of restaurateurs: 37% of consumers surveyed by Technomic say they intend to go out to restaurants less often.

The National Restaurant Association Show is presented by Winsight, the parent company of Restaurant Business and Technomic.

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Andrew B. Reiter