More than 2,100 exhibiting companies demonstrated their goods and services to a crowd of more than 63,000 chefs, restaurant owners and other foodservice professionals at the National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago last week. The show floor was a great place to spot new trends. Several trends from years past — such as gluten-free and spicy flavors — are still going strong. Here’s a look at three concepts that were among the most buzzed-about at this year’s show.

Time for Tea

Specialty iced tea was among the top trends named by American Culinary Federation chefs in NRA’s What’s Hot Forecast for 2015. Teas of all types were represented on the show floor this year, from artisanal loose teas to flavored iced teas that are gaining popularity as more diners seek out healthier beverage choices.

Art of Tea was one of nearly 50 companies featuring tea at the show. The 10-year-old company produces more than 140 blends and restaurants account for 80% of its business, Business Development Executive Chelsea Gutierrez said. (read more…)

Technology has touched almost every aspect of the food and beverage industry in the digital age, and while some companies have fallen behind the times, others have risen to the occasion, incorporating technology like e-commerce and mobile applications into their business strategies. One aspect of the food and beverage space that has benefited in the digital age is loyalty programs. And restaurants and retailers are increasingly using today’s tech tools to elevate their loyalty strategies.

For Jess Stephens, chief marketing officer at digital marketing firm SmartFocus, it is all about creating an omnichannel, personalized experience.

“It doesn’t really matter what the channel is, it’s more about making it personalized and relevant in real time,” she said.

Today’s digital world allows retailers and restaurants to approach loyalty programs through different tiers, from more traditional loyalty cards, to mobile apps and location-based services, Stephens said. These different tiers help companies increase the amount of information they know about their customers and allow companies to provide customers with a more personalized shopping or dining journey. (read more…)

Chefs and other foodservice professionals are just beginning to scratch the surface of what they can create with 3D printers, and the possibilities are seemingly endless. The Culinary Institute of America has teamed with 3D Systems to explore how the 3D printing company’s ChefJet Pro, the first 3Dfood printer, can be used in professional kitchens. Representatives from the CIA and 3D Systems sat on a panel at the National Restaurant Association Show Monday to talk about what the future holds for 3D printing in the food world.

“We feel strongly that 3D printing has something to offer the culinary world, and we’re motivated to make sure the technology is available to the industry. But we don’t want to be the ones to decide how those capabilities are deployed. We want to make sure culinarians are able to explore those for themselves,” said Liz von Hasseln, creative director of food for 3D Systems. (read more…)

Restaurants of all sizes and types are trying to tap into the millennial mindset in order to appeal to the influential demographic. Connecting with these tech-savvy, food-loving consumers is key to attracting their business and earning their brand loyalty, chain restaurant chefs said during a panel discussion Sunday at the National Restaurant Association Show.

“It’s really about that connectivity and making a connection with our brand and our guests … they want to feel that connection all throughout their choice,” said Heidi Curry, senior manager of global R&D for bakery at Dunkin’ Brands.

Eateries can foster a connection with millennial consumers in a variety of ways, both in the restaurant and before and after a customer comes in to dine.

Being active on social media and having an engaging, dynamic web presence can go a long way toward reaching millennial consumers, who are interested in brands’ backstories and hearing about why brands and products align with their lifestyle. (read more…)

Do you know what motivates the food industry operator — the person or people making the business decisions for a restaurant or other establishment? What makes an operator more likely to purchase a new product? Is it a recommendation directly from their sales representative? Is it experiencing and learning about a product at a national food show? Is it feedback from customers?

When asked about new products an operator has purchased in the past month, 45% of operators said a free sample spurred them to action.

This is just one of the insights we uncovered in Datassential’s 2015 PULSE report, which surveys 1,500 operators to reveal their motivations, challenges, and behaviors. It has become an essential planning tool for our clients, who use it to be certain they have a comprehensive understanding of food industry operators — their needs, wants, behaviors, demographics, and more — setting the stage for their future business initiatives. (read more…)