Skip navigation

Top food trends from the 2012 NRA Show

Single servings, sustainability and more were in vogue at this year's event

This is part of NRN’s special coverage of the 2012 NRA Show. The show is held in Chicago, May 5-8. Follow all coverage on NRN’s ‘At the Show’ section, check out NRN blogs, Reporter’s Notebook, and Tweet with us using #NRNatNRA.


Low pricing was not the top priority for restaurateurs attending the 2012 NRA Show, said suppliers who were displaying their wares at the annual event.

This year, many suppliers at the show said quality, not price, was the first concern of restaurant operators visiting their booths — a change in attitude from recent years — as those operators sought to distinguish themselves from the competition.

Whether it was super-premium Ibérico de bellota — Spanish pork from free-range hogs that had fattened themselves on acorns for at least 18 months — or single-origin coffee, premium products were a top food trend on display at the show this year.

Here are the rest of the top 10 trends from this year's show:

1. Miniature or single-serving desserts. As operators sought ways to make their desserts unique and customizable, but also more healthful, they sought out single-serving items and miniature portions. Suppliers said slightly unusual flavors, such as ginger, pomegranate-berry or English butter toffee caught restaurateurs’ attention.

2. Indulgent desserts. Sheet cakes, premium ice cream and big cookies also garnered interest, suppliers said. They also noted a dessert dichotomy, with both the richest desserts available and better-for-you options such as multigrain, low-sugar cookies catching operators’ eyes.

3. Customizable coffee. Single-serving, pour-over coffee was on display at the booths of many coffee suppliers. Some had machines that kept the water temperature consistent, took out the guesswork and eliminated the need for trained baristas.

4. Southeast Asian flavors. From coconut milk to sweet chile sauce, Southeast Asian touches were in demand at the show this year.

5. Sustainability. Many restaurant operators were asking about the origins of items, from coffee to seafood to vegetables, as they attempted to respond to consumer demand for sustainably grown and processed foods.

6. Molecular for the masses. High-tech flourishes were available for one and all to use. Fruit juice with lecithin, stored in nitrogen-charged canisters like whipped cream, were squirted out as light foam. Caviar-like pearls of balsamic vinegar or hot sauce that burst in your mouth — made through a process that the molecular gastronomers of a decade ago called "spherification" — were available frozen.

7. Better-for-you items. Kefir, the yogurt-like drink that’s the poster child for the probiotic crowd was very much on display at the show as part of a broader trend of better-for-you items, such as green tea-based soda — sweetened with stevia in some cases — or juice drinks spiked with "superfruits" such as blueberry and pomegranate.

8. Convenience solutions. Soft-serve ice cream was available in frozen “pucks,” or individual servings similar to K-Cups, that allow for no-waste portion control. Thaw-and-serve items — bread, pastry, pot pie and proteins from pork to textured soy — were available for restaurateurs seeking convenient ways to bring high-quality food to their customers without developing new areas of expertise

9. Hypoallergenic food. Are your customers allergic to nuts? Eggs? Dairy? Gluten? That was no problem at the organic pavilion, where products with virtually nothing controversial in them were available for sampling. These one-product solutions for sensitive customers were additional examples of what operators were looking for to make their jobs easier.

Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected].
Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.