Top food trends seen at the NRA Show

Another National Restaurant Association Show has come and gone. And with it, another peek into what’s trending and what diners can expect to see showing up on restaurant menus in the months to come. We take a look below at some of the top trends we spotted while exploring the show and acting as food sample vultures):

“Craft” – it’s not just for beer

While the craft beer boom continues, craft-inspired food innovation has crept into numerous other categories as well, with niche and atypical food and beverages abounding at this year’s show.

Not to be outdone by beer, the focus on craft sodas steadily continues to grow, with both Coca-Cola and Pepsico featuring their new craft soda lines (Blue Sky and Stubborn, respectively). With dozens of unique flavors and more natural ingredients, it’s clear there’s a slightly more sophisticated audience in mind for these than typical soda offerings.

Street and food truck-style offerings also have never been more plentiful; new cuts of meat are being offered; and ingredients are being paired in new ways. My favorite sampling? Bacon jam – and honestly, they had me at “bacon.”

Veggies = “meat”

Often referred to as “plant proteins,” plant-based “meat” went way beyond the mainstream soy-based offerings at this year’s NRA Show. From plant-based burgers that actually look, cook and satisfy like fresh ground beef, to jackfruit “pulled pork” and even tomato-based “sushi,” this market is expanding quickly.

And these offerings are not just for vegetarians. As Nancy Kruse pointed out during VantagePoint’s Insight2Impact Summit, healthful eating is on the rise and for many consumers, that means replacing some traditional food items like meats with healthier alternatives.

Pure and clean offerings

This isn’t a reference to the Book of Leviticus, but rather a trend of market maturation in a number of food categories.  Some notable examples include:

Clean meats: From -range to cage-, and hormone- to antibiotic-, “free” has clearly shifted from an ideal for a small number of purchasers to a table stakes expectation in the protein segment.

“Pure” foods:  Whether it be cane sugar, real butter or innumerable sustainably sourced ingredients, less-processed and naturally occurring foods are no longer a novelty but rather staple features of food manufacturers big and small.

Cage-free eggs as ingredients: The trend toward cage-free eggs has been picking up steam in foodservice for several years now, thanks in large part to QSR giants’ promises to go cage-free by certain dates. So while cage-free offerings from purveyors of eggs are nothing new, increasingly food manufacturers that use eggs as ingredients are now calling attention to their cage-free products.

What other food trends did you spot at NRA? Let us know the tasty, trendy or downright odd things you encountered in the comments section below.

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