Food Trends Spotted at the National Restaurant Association Show 2018

I just returned from roaming the exhibits at the National Restaurant Association Show 2018, which was right here in Chicago.

It’s a huge show and there’s so much to report on, and I hope to go back again in the next few days to visit more exhibits and attend some of the sessions before the end of the show.  But for now, some of the major trends I spotted included plant-based protein, probiotics, fermented foods, craft coffee, tea (matcha and more), gluten-free and technology — from 3-D food printers to robotics.  Food as experience and entertainment was huge, including #coffeeinacone — a South African company that sells what they describe as the world’s most instagrammable coffee.

There’s so much to share, but for today I’ll focus on some of the plant-based options and technology.

One of the most intriguing products I tried was from Ocean Hugger Foods.  The CEO was on hand to sample Ahimi, the world’s first-plant-based alternative to raw tuna that can be used for sushi, sashimi, ceviche and poke bowls.  It was quite tasty and surprisingly similar in taste and texture to tuna.  It wouldn’t quite cut it for me, I love real tuna. But I liked the creativity and the passion of the founders.

The folks from Beyond Meat introduced their first plant-based sausage, which I tried during a press briefing in the morning with sauerkraut and it was delicious.  The Beyond Sausage was one of the FABI Award winners this year, and their exhibit was consistently packed.  Although not  everyone was a fan.  When stopping by the booth later after trying it earlier in the morning, I overheard some attendees who were standing in line for the brats that were on the grill.  Once they found out they were “fake” they didn’t want to have anything to do with them.

The company behind Just Mayo introduced Just Scramble, a plant-based egg substitute made from mung bean.  They also served an egg patty in an egg sandwich for the press briefing in the morning.

Looks like jackfruit is getting into foodservice.  I saw several exhibits promoting this plant-based meat alternative and showcasing multiple applications, including jackfruit tacos.

Plant-based beverages were also featured in multiple booths, including this brand-new dairy-free yogurt drink from Califia.  It’s made from almond milk with added probiotics.  Look for it coming to a supermarket near you this summer.

Technology was a major focus at the show and there’s a session on the Future of Restaurants that I hope to attend.  A German company called Procusini demonstrated their 3-D food printer that can make chocolate, marzipan, pasta and other customized creations.

Robotics are also moving into restaurants, including this “server” from Bear Robotics.

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