Trendspotting at the National Restaurant Show and Sweets & Snacks Expo

nduja butcher

Walking the exhibit floors at two recent trade shows in Chicago revealed several similar food trends. In fact, I’m getting some of the products mixed up — forgetting if I saw them at the National Restaurant Association show or the National Confectioners Association’s  Sweets & Snacks Expo, which were back-to-back at the McCormick Place convention center.  So I’ve done a mashup for  you, collecting some of the trends I spotted at both shows.

1. Celebration of meat

For starters, it was about all meat — high-end salumi and charcuterie at the NRA and meat snacks at the snack expo. Here’s ‘nduja, which is a wonderful spicy, spreadable salami from Italy. I love that the brand  Nduja Artisans is made in Chicago, and it seems very authentic — owned by a family from Calabria, Italy. The other brand I found was Massachusetts-based Sid Wainer & Son.  ‘Nduja was on several food trend lists for 2015 and I’m starting to see it available in more places, including Plum Market where I shopped today in the Old Town neighborhood of Chicago.  Beyond ‘nduja, there were many handcrafted meats on display at NRA;  at the Sweets & Snacks Expo, you couldn’t escape all of the meat snacks, including jerky, meat sticks and even a meat straw for your Bloody Mary from Benny’s.  As they say, this ultimate garnish is “bloody genius.”

PicMonkey Collagenduja2Consumer demand for high protein, on-the-go food is helping drive sales of jerky, which climbed 12.8% last year, and other dried meat snacks, which increased 14.3% last year, according to data analysis by IRI Worldwide.  The Snack Food Association says meat snacks are among the top performing snacking options, experiencing +16.3% dollar sales and +10.8% unit sales.  I tasted several varieties of jerky, including these offerings from Duke’s Smoked Meats — which were some of my favorites, especially the spicy BBQ beef brisket strips.




The jerky trend even included seafood, like this Ruby Bay Salmon Jerky and Baked Salmon Skin Chips.



2. Vegan/vegetarian entrees

Once again, there were many dualing trends — while meat was embraced, so was meatless.   Several exhibitors showcased meatless, plant-based entrees — alternatives to beef, lamb, pork and chicken.  There was also a lot of emphasis on sustainable agriculture.  Some exhibitors even brought a bit of the agriculture to the exhibit floor — like these microgreens.


3. Mediterranean cuisine

The Mediterranean diet, a trend identified by NRA’s What’s Hot Forecast, seemed to influence several exhibitors.  Flatbreads, in particular, were showing up in lots of places, including Kronos Foods, which served Mediterranean Street Tacos and Loaded Gyro Fries.


gyros fries

4. Pickle it. 

Picking and fermented foods remain a big trend among restaurateurs, and the classic dill pickle emerged as a snack trend at the Sweets & Snacks Expo.  I liked these individual snack-sized portions of pickles from Titos.  Pickled flavored potato chips won the best-in-show award for salty snacks at the Expo.  The winner was Kettle Thick + Bold Dill Pickle Potato Chips.


IMG_20150519_1052064515. Healthy snacks

Lots of better-for-you snacks were on display at the Expo, including Say Yes to No flavored bread chips from Holland (a new spin on bagel chips), Way Better snacks made with sprouted grains, seeds and beans (which I also spotted for the first time at Plum Market today), Sun Life Sunflower Spread  (dubbed as peanut-free, dairy-free and gluten-free), and Phoney Baloney’s Coconut Bacon, which is a vegan bacon substitute.

PicMonkey Collage4snacks

6. Fruits

Fruits were everywhere — topping cheese, freeze dried and in lollipops (ok, not really fruit).  Gelato was a popular trend at NRA, especially varieties made with exotic fruits.  You can even get some fruit in Liquor Whipped, a spiked whipped cream in such fruity flavors as Key Lime Pie and Pina Colada. NCA identified “a focus on fruit” as one of the top trends of the Expo. “In addition to mainstays like orange, apple and cherry, candy and snack manufacturers are introducing new products including more sophisticated fruit varieties and flavor profiles like Meyer lemon, blood orange and gold delicious apples to name a few.  Pumpkin and pineapple jalepeno also turn heads as newcomers to the snack world, while fruits like wine grapes and baobob are making their debut appearances.  The use of real fruit in candy and snack products is also on the rise.”

PicMonkey Collagefruit

gelato jpg

gelato fruit edited


Here’s a look at other trend recaps:

Nation’s Restaurant News: Top 10 Food and Beverage Trends from 2015 NRA Show
Euromonitor International: Top 5 Food Trends at NRA Show 2015
NCA Announces 2015 Trends From Sweets & Snacks Expo


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