Editor Joe Carbonara reviews some of his key takeaways from The NAFEM Show in 2013.
It's a good thing that The NAFEM Show comes once every two years. The pace and intensity of the biennial event that folded up its big top last week in Orlando left my head spinning and I mean that only in the best possible way. And, no, I did not attend the Jimmy Buffett concert Saturday night.
Despite the challenging economic climate of recent years, the mood during The NAFEM Show was refreshingly upbeat. While I think a lot of that's attributable to the fact that no industry loves an excuse to spend time together more so than the foodservice equipment and supplies community, there was no denying that people came to Orlando with an appetite for information and the more than 550 exhibiting companies did not disappoint.
One area that drew lots of attention from attendees was the new product display known as What's Hot! What's Cool! With more than 125 companies participating in this part of the exhibit What's Hot! What's Cool! became a show within a show. And, for the most part, the reviews of this museum-quality display were pretty positive for the depth and breadth of product. Kudos to The NAFEM Show team for creating a venue that was so inviting and easy to use.
Here are some key themes from conversations and presentations taking place leading up to and during the show that really stick out in my mind.
It's all about the experience: Non-commercial operators from all segments now strive to provide customers with a restaurant-quality experience, regardless of the venue. This starts with food quality and extends into service and even décor and it impacts equipment selection, layout and more. In some cases, non-commercial operators are partnering more with restaurants from their community to bring the commercial operators' cuisine to their facilities by inviting local or regional players on to their campus.
Starting from scratch: The practice of scratch cooking is enjoying a renaissance in the foodservice industry as all operator segments look to provide the freshest product possible to their constituents. This includes sourcing local ingredients and in-house butchering of meats to ensure the maximum yield from protein orders. Indeed, craftsmanship is something that most operators are taking an even greater pride in these days when it comes to food preparation and cooking. As such, they are showing a greater interest in those items that will help really showcase their abilities.
Healthful matters: Operators from all segments continue to develop ways to address consumers' desire to consume better-for-you foods and for menu transparency. This impacts menu composition, menu boards, food displays and much more. QR codes are being used as a way to provide more information to tech savvy consumers.
Sustainability has a long way to go: Many in the foodservice industry still equate being sustainable with specifying Energy Star-rated products, local sourcing of ingredients and specifying compostable disposables. While those are all good elements of a sustainability plan, operators often mistake adopting only one of those practices as being sustainable. When it comes to sustainability in foodservice, it's time to stop checking boxes off from a list of options and start building comprehensive plans that not only evolve over time but also include measureable goals and objectives that allow the foodservice operation to monitor its progress by quantifying the results. Further, when it comes to specifying equipment, don't stop picking out Energy Star-rated items. To ensure these items generate the desired return on investment it is important to properly train staff on how to use the equipment and to commit to the manufacturer's planned maintenance recommendations. It is easy to cut corners in either area but know that doing so will impede the efficiency of a specific item.