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The National Restaurant Show.png The National Restaurant Association Show

Retailers: Here’s what you should take away from the upcoming Restaurant Show

This year’s show includes on-trend products, state-of-the-art technology, culinary demos, and more

As supermarkets increasingly compete in the dynamic foodservice market by offering restaurant-quality prepared foods, the upcoming National Restaurant Association Show provides an array of educational programming and exhibitors geared toward foodservice operators across all segments of the industry.

The Show, which was acquired last year by Informa (the same company that owns Supermarket News, Nation’s Restaurant News, and several other foodservice events and publications), is scheduled for May 18-21 at McCormick Place in Chicago. It is the largest annual gathering in the Western Hemisphere for the foodservice industry.

“As the consumer demand for value and convenience grows, retailers have a prime opportunity to become a mealtime destination and capture market share within the industry,” said Caitlin Rodgers, senior director of marketing for the National Restaurant Association Show. “The Show enables retail professionals to uncover fresh flavors and grab-and-go products to entice customers throughout the day, gain access to data-backed insights on food trends and consumer behavior, and engage face-to-face with hundreds of future-forward suppliers.”

Exhibitors will include providers of on-trend products that are gaining traction in retail foodservice, such as eco-friendly packaging and plant-based menu solutions, as well as the latest innovations in equipment and technology.

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“By participating in the National Restaurant Show, retail professionals not only gain access to a vast network of industry professionals and suppliers, but also position themselves at the forefront of innovation and excellence within the retail foodservice landscape,” said Rodgers.

Among the highlights of this year’s show will be a Keynote Discussion led by José Andrés, the acclaimed chef, restaurateur, and humanitarian. His discussion will delve into the profound influence of food on communities, sustainable food systems, and the transformative power of culinary innovation.

Andrés is one of several chefs scheduled to present at the show, along with celebrity chef, restaurateur and retailer Jeff Mauro, founder and CEO of Mauro Provisions; award-winning blind chef Christine Ha, who won TV cooking competition show MasterChef in that show’s third season; and chef/restaurateur Rick Bayless, whose businesses include a line of retail sauces, salsas, and other products.

New to the National Restaurant Show this year is an Expo + Education badge. While on-the-floor programming, keynotes, and featured sessions remain accessible to all attendees through a general registration pass, the Expo + Education badge includes access to sessions along six education tracks: Culinary Insights, Operations Solutions, Marketing Matters, Technology Strategies, Trends in Adult Beverage, and Workforce Management.

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These sessions dive into topics such as operational efficiency, labor management, and leveraging technology tools to streamline operations and enhance the customer experience, said Stacy Hodge, senior director of programming for the National Restaurant Show.

“By attending these education sessions, retailers can gain actionable insights, practical strategies, and best practices to optimize their retail foodservice operations and achieve sustained success in a dynamic industry environment,” said Hodge.

By searching the “Programming & Education” section of the National Restaurant Show’s website, retailers can sort the sessions according to those applicable for Retail Foodservice. Applying the Retail Foodservice filter yields dozens of presentations on topics ranging from food safety to catering, marketing, and culinary trends, including a presentation by Informa’s own foodservice trends research firm, Technomic. 

Hodge highlighted a sampling of Expo + Education sessions that include:

  • The use of artificial intelligence and robotics
  • Tools for managing menu prices and food costs
  • Protecting employees in a diverse, conflict-charged workplace
  • A presentation from Technomic on consumer attitudes and behaviors
  • The “State of the Plate 2024” — a focus on building a winning menu
  • Incentives and tactics for recruiting workers

Other areas of the show that could be of interest to retailers include:

  • The Show’s exhibit floor, which features hundreds of new exhibitors each year in more than 900 product categories, including food, beverage, equipment, technology, tableware, sanitation, and others
  • On-floor programming that includes supplier-led sessions, live culinary demos, and beverage sessions and demos led by mixologists and category experts, offering retailers ideas for expanding their offerings and leveraging new tools and solutions to boost their foodservice business
  • Startup Alley, which features new companies that offer products and services for the foodservice industry, including new food and beverage items, new equipment and supplies, new technology, and more
  • Specific areas of the Show floor dedicated to award-winning products, including culinary creations from Food and Beverage (FABI) award winners and customer service technology and autonomous equipment from Kitchen Innovation (KI) award winners

Retail attendees can explore several dedicated pavilions catering to specific interests and needs, such as the Global Food Expo, Organic & Natural, A Taste of the States, and the TECH Pavilion. These areas include exhibits showcasing quick-service food and beverage products, innovative packaging solutions, advanced point-of-sale systems, and cutting-edge technology solutions tailored to enhance retail operations.

“Retail remains a vital component of the Show’s diverse audience and, as grab-and-go offerings become more popular across the industry, retail represents a critical and growing sector,” said Rodgers.

Over the years, retail attendance at the Show has been resilient, which underscores the importance of the Show’s offerings for retail professionals seeking to stay informed, connected, and competitive in a rapidly evolving market landscape, she said.

“Looking ahead, we expect to see growth within this segment, and this is driven by the continuous innovation, educational opportunities, and networking prospects that the Show provides to retailers across the industry,” Rodgers said.

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