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Food Trends from the 2016 NRA Show

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The National Restaurant Association (NRA) Show took place in Chicago from May 21 to 24. The show and its BAR event hosted attendees from around the world who saw the latest in packaged foods, hot and soft drinks, alcoholic drinks, cooking equipment, and software for the restaurant industry. Below are the three food trends observed by Euromonitor Food and Nutrition Analyst Emily Balsamo.

Tofurky Chinese chickn salad

Vegan Steps it Up

Vegan analogues of non-vegan foods have become increasingly creative, innovative, and delicious. With Americans increasingly pursuing a “flexitarian” diet, restaurants are adding more vegetarian and vegan offerings. Vegan chefs and food producers recently cracked one of the toughest cases - the egg white. Aquafaba is chickpea water; that is, the liquid that is usually discarded when draining cooked chickpeas (garbanzo beans). Chefs discovered that when whipped, this water transforms into a white foam with stiff peaks, and is functionally much like meringue. Sir Kensington's, a New York condiment company, was present at the NRA show touting its product which proudly featured aquafaba as a key ingredient. Their  vegan mayonnaise called Fabanaise has put aquafaba on the map as a viable ingredient in food processing. The mayonnaise analogue has received positive reviews for taste and texture and will be receiving wide distribution this year. Gardein, producer of meat analogues ranging from chicken, to meatballs, to fish also touted a new product at the show. Gardein's Meatless Pepperoni Pockets aim to provide vegans, vegetarians, and flexitarians with a delicious, though perhaps indulgent, snack. Another maker of meat analogues, The Tofurky Company offered its new line of Slow Roasted Chick’N in three flavours – lightly seasoned, Thai basil, and sesame garlic. The company recommended the use of Chick’N in fusion recipes and offered samples of Tofurky Chinese Chick’N salad on Belgian endive.

Cooking with Cannabis

Right now, extra-medical use of marijuana is fully legal in three states; Washington, Colorado, and Oregon. Within those states, dispensaries sell marijuana flowers in dried form, as well as cannabis-infused foods to any consumer regardless of medical condition. According to Robyn Lawrence, author of the Cannabis Kitchen Cookbook, 45% of retail revenue at marijuana dispensaries in Colorado is from food sales; unfortunately, the candies, cookies, and chocolate bars sold at these dispensaries leave something to be desired. "It's not food I really want to eat," Robyn said. Robyn, along with Chris Sayegh, founder of the company The Herbal Chef, and Herb Seidel, founder of Cooking with Herb, set out to demystify the process of incorporating cannabis into cuisine at their talk “Cooking with Cannabis” at the NRA Show. They insisted that marijuana foods doesn't need to be brownies and chocolate bars; cannabis lends itself well to sophisticated flavor profiles. Case in point: the Herbal Chef's frozen ready meal of Quinoa Stuffed Chicken. Chris emphasized the positive difference such products could make in the lives of many people; aside from being a nutritious organic meal, the product could provide those suffering from ailments such as cancer a convenient, healthy, and safe way to ingest cannabis. The Herbal Chef's meals will be available for purchase in Whole Foods Market, Mothers Markets, Sprouts, and in the frozen section of independent health food stores,  as well as through home delivery. The product, of course, will only be available in legal states. As cannabis legalization becomes increasingly widespread in the US, the market for such products is expected to widen. "Get in the game now," the speakers stressed, "before the market is too crowded."

Restaurants Tackle Food Waste

The issue of food loss, food waste, and the environmental cost of food production has edged closer to the forefront of the US public consciousness, and for the first time, was directly addressed at this year's NRA Show. In recent years US consumers have become increasingly concerned with and aware of the environmental cost of food production, and have begun taking steps to combat waste and lessen the environmental footprint of their food. The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) Economic Research Service and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimate that, in 2010, 31%, or 60 million tonnes, of food available in retail / distributor (not including farm to retail/distributor) outlets went unconsumed.  In September 2015, in a joint statement, the USDA and EPA announced the US’s first-ever national food waste reduction goal, calling for a 50% reduction by 2030. A panel consisting of representatives from the NRA, Darden, and Starbucks, as well as from non-profits Food Donation Connection and Feeding America addressed this issue at the show. They stressed that food waste not only hurts the planet and the economy, but hurts a foodservice provider's bottom line. Reducing food waste through more diligent allocation of resources and through food donation can increase profit margins and present an excellent opportunity to engage in corporate social responsibility. With the USDA and EPA joint initiative gaining steam, foodservice providers will have no choice but to acquiesce to new regulations regarding food waste in the coming years.

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