As foodservice writers we entered the 2016 National Restaurant Association Show with an eye on how well companies and speakers were communicating their message. Was it contextual, original, informative? Rather than rate what was good or bad we focused on the variety and substance of content. Here’s what we noticed from a foodservice writer perspective.
Paul Trotti, director of Menu Strategy at Chick-fil-A, talked about cleaner and healthier menus. Consumer behavior is driving this trend. Trotti’s presentation addressed both those who may be introducing new items on the menu and those who want to “clean” existing items. We recently created an advertorial on clean food for Marie’s and Plate magazine. Marie’s is launching a new line of salad dressings for the foodservice industry which are free of artificial flavors, colors, preservatives, HFCS, corn syrup or gluten. It’s a good example of a how a brand can align content to it’s products.
Fusion food has been around for awhile, but when the CEO of KOR Food talked about it the emphasis was not only on combining two cuisines but also growing practices, local ingredients and cooking styles. Trending topics are a good way to present thought leadership. Companies can show they are current and able to think creatively about what’s going on in the industry now.
Developing expertise in an evergreen topic offers a wellspring of opportunity to develop content that continuously engages an audience. Anyone in the foodservice business knows restaurants face challenges when looking for reliable, skilled and committed workers. What are the latest recruiting and hiring tactics being used to meet the personnel challenge? T.J. Schier, president at SMART Restaurant Group, talked about how to develop a team of top performers. Her content addressed an ongoing concern and added value by providing steps the audience could take to meet their employment goals.
Introducing ‘next generation’ products, services and technology pulls interest. Gilbert Bailey, vice president at Beanstalk Engage, discussed how to manage restaurant data that’s being generated by guests in real-time. Marc Jacobs, partner and executive vice president at Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, moderated a panel of speakers on the future of restaurant design. Panel discussions offer multiple perspectives on a single topic. As with any content, it is important to have a perspective.
Shane O’Flaherty, national director of Hospitality and Travel
at Microsoft, and CEO and Co-founder of VMob, Scott Bradley, presented a case study that highlighted VMob’s intelligent personalization platform. This expert duo showed how collecting data from any source and combining it with existing customer data, can help restaurants tailor their content to a targeted audience and increase revenues. Case studies engage by providing a real-life, practical approach to solving challenges. They also provides two perspectives, that of seller and buyer. Case studies are a powerful way for sharing how-to, results-oriented content.
Exhibitor demonstrations were few and far between at the 2016 NRA show. There were many samples of food to try, but the process was rarely shown. With equipment , we did see Vollrath’s Instant Cut 5.0 being demonstrated by District Sales Manager Debbie Pasich. Here’s a quick look.
Demonstrations are an effective content form to create an experience for the audience and produce clarity around the product.
Celebrities draw crowds. Robert Irvine, Rick Bayless, Anne Burrell and others held signing sessions at the Show bookstore. Mario Rizzotti, Iron Chef America Judge & Italian Culinary Specialist, shared tips on tasting balsamic vinegar. In the proper setting, celebrity-based content boosts awareness and authority.
Dawn Sweeney, president and CEO of the NRA, conducted live interviews with three innovative foodservice leaders on Sunday. Restaurateur Kimbal Musk is creating Learning Gardens for grade school children across the country with 114 operating in Chicago. He talked about his experience with training farmers and becoming a trusted buyer of local food. Red Robin Burgers & Brews President Denny Post said the company has 5 million people registered in its loyalty group. The secret she said is, “Listening to our customers.” In his interview Jason Droege of Uber Eats, described how their logistics network of drivers went from moving people to moving food. The interview is a good content form for learning how people think and spread ideas.
Everyone needs to eat, wherever they are. Laurie Maurino, departmental food administrator at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, talked about how they feed inmates for $3.45 per day. She touched on poignant challenges such as food waste, religious diets, and the use of fermented foods. When creating content about niche markets, a larger lesson can be shared.
Who and What Went Missing
Of the top largest foodservice distributors we saw only Sysco had a booth at the Show. Of the top five foodservice equipment and suppliers we saw only Edward Don & Co and Wasserstrom. The other noticeable absence was paper. Gone are the days when attendees filled bags with brochures, ads and catalogs. We observed increased reliance on the smartly designed NRA app vs the printed Exhibit guide.
Overall, the content shared at the 2016 NRA Show was abundant and relevant. Being foodservice writers, we know and appreciate that effort.