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May 21, 2024

Quick Takeaways From The 2024 National Restaurant Association Show

The National Restaurant Association (NRA) has been around for 105 years. Foodservice is America’s second largest private sector employer with 15.1 million workers. Thus, the industry’s annual event in Chicago is an important barometer of the state of the business and the mood of its practitioners. I’ve been an attendee to the NRA Show for more than two decades and here are my takeaways from 2024.

Guests mingling on a rooftop bar at NRA with Chicago night skyline in the background

Guests mingle during an off-site event called Flavors In The Sky during the 2024 National Restaurant Show.

The Mood Is Upbeat Among Operators

While continued inflation is slowing traffic to restaurants, operators are still positive about the outlook for sales this year. Among food manufacturers, the message was delivering indulgence with products that reduces labor costs and speeds service in the kitchen. A good example was the unprecedented three Food & Beverage Awards (FABI) earned by our client Ajinomoto Foods of North American for their Revel Eats® Horchata Bites, Guacamole Bites and Posada® Cruncheros. All are as easy as heat and serve with uniquely indulgent flavors. There were a total of 35 FABI winners and most involved simple prep or unique flavor, and operators flooded booths of FABI winners with interest.

People walking around Ajinomoto Foodservice booth at the 2024 National Restaurant Association

Ajinomoto Foods of North America earned three FABI Awards for innovative new products.

Sweet Nostalgic Delights

There were some outstanding opportunities for restaurant operators to tap into nostalgic treats and desserts this year. J&J Snack Foods was a great example offering unique flavor combinations for their ICEE® frozen beverages partnering with candies that operators can leverage for an upcharge while making their menus unique. The ICEE Let The Kid Out Campaign was evident as part of the ICEE display that worked perfectly with the candy mash ups. J&J’s ¡Hola! Churros® station experienced long lines of operators hungry for the mini dessert that is a customer favorite.

Lady with oversized sunglasses sitting in large beach chair with beach ball and ICEE drinks in the background

Nostalgic treats, like ICEE’s Let The Kid Out Campaign drew thirsty and interested operators.

New Products Everywhere

There is no better time to get eyeballs on new products for demos and tastings and this year some that stood out was Red Gold’s new better for you BBQ sauce that replaces high fructose corn syrup with real sugar. Another new entry was Pasta Armando, an Italian imported pasta using bronze dyes to extrude the pasta. Bronze dyes leave the dry pasta with a rougher surface that clings to the intended sauce to promote flavor and saves the operators on sauce applied.

Chef preparing food in the Armando Foodservice booth at the 2024 NRA Show
People walking around the Red Gold Foodserivce booth inside the 2024 National Restaurant Association show in Chicago

Live cooking demonstrations, tastings and new products, such as Red Gold’s new better for you BBQ sauce was plentiful during the show.

Off Site Events Were Everywhere in Chicago

Away from the show floor, special events by food companies were everywhere in the Windy City. From a special cooking session by La Brea Bakery founder Nancy Silverton for food writers to Flavors In The Sky, with more than 1,000 attendees, there was ample time for food sampling, relationship building, and renewals of old friendships. Held on the rooftop lounge of the Godfrey Hotel, Flavors In The Sky guests had a magnificent view of Chicago’s skyline and foods by clients Texas Pete®, Ajinomoto Foods of North America, Ole Mexican Foods, and Johnsonville.

Over 500 people partying at Flavors in the Sky 2024
Texas Pete sales team celebrates success with all hands in the center at the 2024 NRA show.

Following the best off-site event during the NRA Show, Texas Pete® Sales Team members celebrate the success.

Another off-site event was bittersweet as long-time friend and media representative, John Krueger was recognized for his many years of leadership as he retires from the industry.

John Kruger receiving award at the 2024 NRA show

John Krueger, long-time media representative for WTWH is recognized for his career achievements.

Summing It Up

Informa, who acquired the National Restaurant Association Show with its purchase of Winsight, should be applauded for seamless execution of the nation’s top foodservice event in its first year of operations. The event had a vibe that was upbeat and interesting for any foodservice professional. With a pair of sore feet and the joy of sharing some of the success of Creative Energy clients, I must sum it all up with joy in the accomplishments of our team who helped make our clients successful at this year’s NRA Show. If you are in search of an agency that knows how to create excitement at an industry event let’s talk.