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CHICAGO — The boundaries between foodservice channels and the products and experiences they offer are blurring more than ever before, as both foodservice operators and consumer tastes evolve. This was on the minds of many attendees at the 2016 National Restaurant Association (NRA) Show, which kicked off May 21.
The quick-service segment in particular is changing rapidly as consumers seek higher-quality, better-tasting, better-for-you food — at the same price and level of convenience — and as certain foodservice operators prove they are capable of delivering that, according to panelists of the "Emerging Trends: How Fast Food Is Disrupting the Way America Eats" education session.
"Disruption" is a term more often used in the technology industry, but successful quick-service restaurant (QSR) chains are disrupting the status quo for the better.
Dan Kish, Panera Bread's head chef and senior vice president of food, told the audience that valuing a long-term vision over short-term profit is disruptive. His company took steps toward this when it announced the goal of removing all artificial ingredients and sweeteners from its products by the end of this year.
The issue of going "clean" is something other foodservice operators will have to contend with, and be decisive about, Kish cautioned.
"Clean is not negotiable. It is or it isn't," he said.
The Panera executive also discussed how one tricky challenge for QSRs is doing something customers don't want — or don't yet know they want — such as when Panera Bread began making its own dressings instead of stocking the kinds it always had, which resulted in a better product.
Foodservice operators, though, should not assume they always know better and disregard their customers. "Consumers are our true North Star," said fellow panelist Fazoli's CEO Carl Howard.
Along with upping the quality of their products, foodservice operators should be thinking seriously about how to practically implement technology solutions, the panelists encouraged. This includes preparing in-house systems and giving consumers the option to order takeout through their mobile devices — something that will become essentially mandatory in today's on-demand society.
"If you're not thinking about mobile ordering, you're behind already," Howard remarked.
Building a Better Tomorrow
Many exhibitors on the NRA Show expo floor were showcasing ways they, too, are responding to the evolving foodservice landscape.
The Broaster Co.'s new lineup of dipping sauces for its chicken program made its official debut at the show. Consumers' changing flavor profiles were a direct driver of the overhauled sauce line after the company performed "deep-dive" research, according to Chad Vendette, director of marketing. Although the company has more than 60 years of experience, "classic" flavors had to be reviewed in order to meet consumer wants and expectations.
Complex flavor profiles and adventurous consumer tastes likewise inspired four new meats from Hormel, whose Fast 'N Easy Bold Sausage Patties were designed to help distinguish a foodservice program. Sweet & Smoky BBQ Pork, Citrus Chipotle Chicken, Chorizo Pork and Spicy Asian Chicken can be used in sandwiches, wraps and more.
Hormel also showcased its Bacon 1 Perfectly Cooked Bacon, a fully-cooked product that mimics the taste and feel of newly prepared bacon after warming.
On the foodservice equipment side, Hatco Corp. introduced the Rapid Cuisine Induction Range, a durable unit constructed of black ceramic glass that is intended to be suitable for both convenience store and restaurant foodservice programs. The silent-running range is small enough to fit in a prep area with limited counter space and includes a USB port that lets multi-unit retailers transfer programmable preset modes.
For c-stores and other foodservice operators that are serious about investing in a quality foodservice program, Hamilton Beach displayed its Expeditor family of culinary blenders. These durable units are specifically meant for outlets "with a focus on fresh," as they allow for efficient, easy creation of everything from smoothies to sauces to dips.
The 2016 NRA Show continues through Tuesday, May 24, at Chicago's McCormick Place.