Every restaurant, supermarket, convenience store, food truck, hospital cafeteria, manufacturer, distributor — every food business — generates a huge amount of data. Data on average checks, typical wait times, cooler temperature, product inventory levels, loyalty card usage rates, social media engagement — the list goes on. And that list grows every day, as new technologies and services enter the market.

But, until recently, the food industry made use of only a very limited amount of this data. Managers would check sales at the end of the night, a process made easier with computerized point-of-sale systems. But as technology infiltrates every aspect of the food industry, and with innovative startup companies looking for ways to improve food operations (see the huge variety of meal delivery startups that have popped up in recent years), suddenly everyone is looking to harness this “big data” and make crunching the numbers automated, immediate, and actionable. (read more…)

It’s no surprise that many consumers adhere to gluten-free diets due to gluten allergy or intolerance, but a growing number of consumers are turning to gluten-free products as a way to live healthier lifestyles. The gluten-free market is already a significant one, and it is poised for even more growth in the coming years. While entering the gluten-free market carries a lot of benefits for manufacturers and retailers, there are certain risks companies should keep in mind when trying to capitalize on the gluten-free craze.

The gluten-free diet is one of the most popular diets in the U.S., Alessio Fasano of the Center for Celiac Research said during a webinar this week. The gluten-free market rakes in about $10 billion in annual sales, and while some of that comes from consumers who eat gluten-free for health reasons, a significant amount is due to consumers choosing a gluten-free diet because they think it is healthier. (read more…)

The post is sponsored by TraceGains.

Traveling around the world has given Howard Popoola an appreciation for the quality and safety of the food supply chain in the U.S.

Popoola, vice president of quality assurance at Skokie, Ill.-based Topco Associates, the nation’s largest private-label cooperative, gained his global perspective early in his career working in food safety for the United Nations. After gaining his master’s degree in food and industrial microbiology from the University of Lagos in his native Nigeria, Popoola became the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) Program Manager for the U.N. Food Program, where he was responsible for establishing HACCP systems — a prevention-based process for food safety — in food donor processing facilities in more than 80 countries.

He gained further experience in quality assurance and food safety positions with major food brands, including WestFarm Foods (now Darigold), Kraft Foods and Nestle before he joined distribution company U.S. (read more…)

Newk’s Eatery co-founder and CEO Chris Newcomb’s first go-around as a restaurant owner included plenty of trial-and-error and learning on the job. As co-founders of McAlister’s Deli in 1989, Newcomb and his dad and brother learned about everything from recipes to scheduling to training by doing. Along they way, they also learned to ask for help.

“We met a lot of really smart people and started asking questions,” he said. “You can always learn a lot from the people who have accomplished a lot.”

The lessons stuck, and when Newcomb left McAlister’s it had grown to more than 50 company owned and franchise locations, laying the groundwork for a chain that today boasts 341 eateries in 24 states, according to its website.

Newk’s Eatery is a fast-casual concept with a focus on people and evidence of the lessons learned the first time around.

“It had been a long run at McAlisters, there was a lot of fast growth and a lot of hard work. (read more…)

The 2015 National Restaurant Association Show, to be held May 16–19 at Chicago’s McCormick Place convention center, will draw nearly 65,000 foodservice industry employees and operators looking to learn about new industry trends, gadgets, food products and cooking techniques, as well as attend tailored education sessions covering all kinds of topics, including environmental sustainability.

With so much going on, what should you see?

Here are six must see events at the Show that NRA’s Conserve sustainability team think you shouldn’t miss. If you don’t know a lot about sustainability or how to make your own business environmentally responsible, you can start with three sustainability learning sessions:

True Tales of Unexpected Triumph: The Bumpy Path to Sustainability, May 16, 11:30 a.m., in room S402b. If you like true stories told live, you’ll love this hour-long session, based on the popular “The Moth” storytelling series. Hear personal tales from industry insiders, like Starbucks, Sodexo, and Kendall College, about how they started their own environmental efforts. (read more…)