Trade Show Preview: NRA 2013

Product highlights at the upcoming restaurant show, through a c-store lens

If the National Restaurant Association’s one-year-old FABI awards are any indication of what consumers will be ordering in the years to come, you can expect a continuation of specific nutrition demands. Five of the seven winners tout a health specialty, be it gluten-free, low-sodium or GMO-free.

The edible counterpart to the annual Kitchen Innovations (KI) awards (see below for those winners), the Food & Beverage Innovation awards are granted based on the products’ “exciting benefits to operators,” according to the NRA. They represent items that are highly marketable and designed to satisfy consumer trends. FABI and KI winners will be on display at the 2013 NRA Show, May 18-21 at McCormick Place in Chicago.

Two of the FABI winners—that’s nearly 30%—are gluten free. Edison Grainery’s Organic Quinoa Pasta touts a quinoa and rice flour blend that is also high in protein, especially for a pasta product. Kiki’s Gluten Free Foods’ SpinachFeta Pockets meanwhile feature special packaging that helps eliminate the risk of cross contamination in a foodservice setting.

Perpetually sitting on the brink of becoming a full-blown public-health issue, sodium content is the focus of Nu-Tek Food Sciences Salt for Life Sea Salt Blend. It promises the true taste of salt with 70% less sodium than table salt, and can be used as a one-to-one salt replacement in recipes.

On the premium front are Sinco Inc.’s Italcrust Ancient Grain Handstretched Woodfired Frozen Pizza Crust, Hail Merry Snacks’ Merry’s Chocolate Miracle Mini Tart with GMO-free ingredients, and Wagshal’s Imports’ Fermin Iberico de Bellota Smoked Panceta.

Surprisingly, only one winner boosts convenience attributes. Dawn Foods’ TasteFills are freezer-to-fryer bakery bites that come in six different filling varieties. I expect more manufacturers are in fact focusing on convenience foods for nontraditional foodservice operators such as c-stores, but that they weren’t the focus of the FABI awards. The FABI awards do however reflect the NRA’s “What’s Hot in 2013” survey of chefs, which revealed a focus on nutrition, and local/artisanal products. (Click here to view the survey results.)

If I were a c-store retailer, I’d spend more time in the Kitchen Innovations section of the show floor. A number of 2013 honorees tout benefits to the convenience operation.

Alto-Shaam has a compact combi oven that doesn’t require a hood—allowing the operator to place the unit wherever it is needed. Combi ovens cook using steam, convection heat or a combination of the two for a variety of applications. It would be ideal for operators doing batch cooking of, for example, baked goods or meats for sandwiches.

Vollrath is being honored for its Mirage Induction Soup Rethermalizer. I continue to wait for induction cooking—with its portability and low ambient heat—to take off in the c-store industry. (Click here for a CSP article on induction.)

Retailers hoping to get into the specialty beverage business should check out Blendtec’s Stealth blender, which has an online programming tool that allows operators to build on 42 preprogrammed blend cycles as well as create signature cycles for company-wide sharing via USB port. Franke Coffee Systems Americas meanwhile is being honored for its FoamMaster superautomatic espresso machine, which produces hot and cold milk foam in a variety of textures to help operators expand their coffee menus.

Launched at the NACS Show last fall, Ovention Inc. won a Kitchen Innovations award for its Matchbox oven. The self-loading and unloading oven features two alternating cook surfaces that can cook different food items one after the other with temperatures varying up to 100 degrees. The Matchbox is already showing up in some more advanced c-stores.

Also in the oven category is Middleby Marshall’s WOW 2 Oven, a conveyor oven that allows operators to control bake temperatures and conveyor speeds and adjust airflow to the top and bottom impingement ports independently for faster, consistent baking and more menu flexibility.

Check out the remaining Kitchen Innovations award winners, and more details on the FABI winners, at And if you’re heading to the NRA Show, let me know what you’ll be searching for on the show floor.