A taste of the future at the National Restaurant Association show in Chicago

The event is so huge that the convention floor alone is the size of more than 12 football fields.
The Culinary Experience at the 2024 National Restaurant Association
Posted at 3:56 PM, May 19, 2024

Thousands of people from all over the world are in Chicago for the biggest food service industry show in the Western Hemisphere. It's so huge; the convention floor alone is the size of more than 12 football fields.

It's the National Restaurant Association show and innovation and approachability are the main things on the menu.

"It's a madhouse of food in here. It's my first time, so I'm really excited about being here,” said Anita Searcy, Human Resources Manager at Concessions International.

Over a four-day stretch, more than 2,4000 exhibitors will pitch their products to some of the nearly 55,000 attendees, who represent all sides of food service.

"We're here to raise exposure about our brand and kind of preach the love of it. We're scooping ice cream, we're tasting cheese, and we got grilled cheese sandwiches,” said Josh Archibald, Executive Chef of Culinary Development at Tillamook County Creamery Association.

Employees with the Tillamook County Creamery Association—or Tillamook for short—view it as a once-a-year opportunity to make a lasting impression.

“I think the best thing is that you know, as we go home, our inboxes start kind of ticking with emails or we're chasing some great leads," said Archibald. "And those are sometimes super strategic for us. So, you meet the right person that's a great partnership brand for what we're trying to do as a brand also."

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In the coming months, industry analysts expect fusion flavors to become more widely available. Combinations beyond sweet and savory are not only on the menu at restaurants but also when grabbing snacks on the go.

"Next-level umami ingredients that are coming over from Asia that American consumers can really understand now, now that they understand what umami is, things like fermented fish flavors and seafood and seaweed,” said Food Futurist Liz Moskow.

An evolution of the American palate, and if you thought plant-based foods were simply a trend, think again.

"The brands that are making really delicious food that's sustainable and healthy, those brands are sticking around,” said Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer at Prime Roots, Joshua Nixon.

The industry is also keeping an eye on Generation Z, and what they want.

"Restaurants have to adapt to Gen-Z when you're looking at the consumer base, how much expendable income," said Marianne Radley. Chief Marketing Officer at Smoothie King. "You've got to keep an eye on where they're shopping. Where they're consuming content? What is their taste profile? How are they emerging across social platforms?”

Exhibitors are serving up some culinary inspiration to the crowds, one sample at a time.

“This is it; this is the show; this is the place to be. There's nothing bigger, there's nothing with more customers, and there's nothing with more respect in the industry than the National Restaurant Association show,” said Mark Snyder, National Food Sales Manager at ItalCrust.