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Mid-year Trend Check-In 2018

The 2018 National Restaurant Association (NRA) Show is a wrap, and Catersource spotted a number of trends on the show floor we’d love to share with you. Here are a few that captured our attention.

Dietary substitutes & veggie forward items

Is it meat, or is it….impossibly vegetarian? The variety of plant-forward products, gluten free, vegetarian, and the like were rampant on the show floor, with the Impossible Burger™ leading the charge. The “burger formerly known as plants” from Impossible Foods took a Food & Beverage Innovation (FABI) award, and rightly so. Made of wheat protein, coconut oil, potato protein, and heme, it is a delicious taste of “beef” that “bleeds” and even holds a very decent char.

The Impossible Burger

Other dietary options included delicious plant-based seasoned cauliflower (and also broccoli) pizza crust from Venice Bakery;

Delicious sea beans

sea beans (Salicornia) from Pete’s Living Greens—crunchy and delicious (may I even say addictive), and developed hydroponically so that the saltiness is toned slightly, with roots remaining attached for extended freshness upon delivery; and a vegan double crust blueberry pie from Achatz Handmade Pie Co. that was so delicious, I confess to returning to sample another flavor (cherry). Additionally, various varieties of tofu,

Beyond Sausage

plant-based sausage (such as Beyond Meat’s new Beyond Sausage), spicy teriyaki vegan jerky (myrtlegreens) gluten free cookie dough (Wild Flour Bakery), and other sweets held their own against more traditional consumer food items.

Global flavors

Building on a variety of rising global trends, falafel fritters, shakshuka sauce, gyros slices, Grecian garlic sauce, pho concentrates, za’atar, pepper spreads, mini Tuscan flatbreads, and achaar delighted tastebuds in attendance. Many of these items found their way to the FABI awards, with tastings happening on Monday of the show in the Foodables studio.

Zesty Z was a standout in the za’atar category.

Advances in technology

First up: Jevo, the world’s first automated gelatin shot machine with precision pouring technology that ensures each shot has exactly .5 oz of alcohol.

Jevo can make 300 gelatin shots per hour, with multiple flavors to choose from. Will gelatin shots ever wane in interest? Apparently, not this year.

Penny, from Bear Robotics

But, as interesting that may be, it was topped by Penny, the first robotic food runner, from Bear Robotics. Bear Robotics’ CEO John Ha tapped a few buttons on his iPad and Penny easily navigated Start Up Alley at the NRA, moving to a nearby table, and avoiding disruptions in its path, to deliver food. Penny can also be used for check delivery and assisted bussing of dishes, leaving servers to attend more carefully to restaurant guests.

Salad robot, Sally

Additionally, Chowbotics demonstrated Sally, the salad robot. Via a quasi-vending machine, consumers can build their salads anyway they wish, pushing buttons for various items and watching as their veggies drop from rotating compartments and into the bowl below, with a finished salad accessed through a small sliding door at the end of the process.  

Consider Oneida’s Plate Envy another piece of technology that elevates the buying experience: coupling a 3D visualizer with a few simple questions, dinnerware, glassware, and flatware combinations can be tailored to each operator’s unique vision, coming to life in 3D on a virtual table.


Place your order via an app, scan in your code, and open the door to receive your food—a great solution to standing in line at the ballpark.

Instead of making reservations days ahead of time, pull up the restaurant table queue on an app, see how long the wait is, and add your name. Upon arrival, your table may be ready or with only a slight delay.

A variety of companies offered fast-casual and quick serve pick up solutions, which included order/pay kiosks (Zivelo); new POS systems (Lavu); and other mobile order, self-serve pick up systems (Apex Order Pick-Up Technologies) that perfect the carry-out process.

Finally, a plethora of technology promises safety and convenience to off and on prem alike, with portable hot water handwashing (Ozark River Portable Sinks); bluetooth thermometers (Comark); sushi rolling machines from Suzumo; and fully automated and enclosed ventless equipment for frying and grilling.

Sustainability, meet technology

Surfing off of dual trends of sustainability and technology was BigZpoon, an app that encourages restaurant operators to create “specials” toward the end of the day from surplus food or leftovers (think small amounts of remaining soup of the day, for example). Advertising these bargains via the app, budget minded consumers can also order and pay remotely, then pick up. This solves a two-fold issue of food waste and couples it with the possibility of gaining new customers in the process.

“The delivery industry is exploding. Restaurant food delivery has some serious momentum behind it, and it shows no sign of slowing down.”

Car, counter or couch?

What is the future of convenience food by way of restaurants? Says Aaron Noveshan of The Culinary Edge about consumers of today, restaurants need to “master the in-store experience; leverage delivery and drive thru; and empower the home chef by finding ways to connect beyond a restaurant’s four walls” such as developing products that allow the guest to bring the brand and restaurant experience home. If a restaurant can make significant investments in proper to-go and delivery packaging, as well as respond to millennial appetites and proclivities, success is far more likely.

Said Laura Caulder, Senior Product Manager for Sterno Products, “The delivery industry is exploding. Restaurant food delivery has some serious momentum behind it, and it shows no sign of slowing down.”

This is great news for those companies with packaging products, as consumers want restaurant quality food delivered in beautiful vessels that also maintain proper holding. Millennials may not necessarily want to eat in brick and mortar establishments, but they want the food they pick up or have delivered to mirror the experience.

Unusual and visually pleasing vessels will attract consumers

Note that while food delivery is on the rise, Catersource is seeing solid movement toward pick up, with that process being made as frictionless as possible. The Starbird Chicken app, for example, offers dine in or pick up. Via the app, the consumer taps to alert of their arrival and then can opt to have the food brought to their car or picked up inside.

For more trends, check back to often and also watch for news on Catersource 2019 in New Orleans, the first show of 2019 to reveal trends in food, beverage, and events related to catering and restaurants of all types.

Kathleen Stoehr

Kathleen Stoehr is the Director of Community & Content Strategy for Catersource, which includes print and digital content, as well as live education at both Catersource, the Art of Catering Food, and Leading Caterers of America Executive Summit.