The 94th Annual National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show, aka NRA Show 2013, was held in Chicago May 18-21. Perhaps as a reflection of increasing confidence in the economy’s recovery, the number of exhibitors and attendees rose for the second consecutive year. More than 2,100 companies showed up to demonstrate their products and services, necessitating the opening of a third exhibit hall for the first time in a number of years. Approximately 40% of the exhibitors were new this year. The NRA also had more than 62,500 registrants from all 50 states and more than 100 countries.

Chain Store Guide had two booths at McCormick Place and was represented by Sales and Marketing VP Carmen Vasquez and her team as well as Managing Editor Matt Werhner.

Carmen thinks the show was one of the best attended yet … “I was surprised to see that they had reopened the basement, and it was pretty full. The mood seemed up-beat, but buyers were still cautious about their spending. The floors were packed with operators and folks wanting to conduct business.”

She goes on to note, “I was surprised by the amount of traffic we were getting to the booth … the economy has forced companies to scale down on the amount of people they send and as a result the directors and managers are the ones attending which is great for all because they can make buying decisions on the floor.”

Matt was at the show to talk to customers, pick up information about new products and technologies, and gain additional insight into the industry. He comments: “The NRA Show is always a great opportunity to meet with customers face to face, attend a few educational seminars, and see some interesting exhibitors. … The energy on the show floor was high.”

Because Matt is also the Technology Editor for Chain Store Guide, he was particularly focused on that aspect of the exhibits: “There were a lot of innovative and exciting technologies on display. I attended a few seminars on point of sale and the future of foodservice technology. Digital wallets, online ordering, and mobile payments were hot topics this year, and NFC (near-field communication) payment technology was discussed as having the potential to be widely available within the next five to ten years.“

Nation’s Restaurant News reported on the top culinary trends at the show, including healthy kids’ food products that are being developed to meet new school nutrition guidelines. Tropical flavors (coconut, mango, passion fruit, guava) were well represented as beverage flavorings and in desserts. Flavored water and iced tea were popular, as was Greek yogurt. noted that nearly 60 exhibitors identified themselves as snack food providers. Gluten-free food was reported by several sources as having passed from fad to mainstream.

Chain Pulse Magazine interviewed several operators to get their takeaways from the show, and most noted the networking opportunities and picking up on industry trends. It also provided them with opportunities to compare and evaluate new products, equipment, and technologies on a real-time basis.

On the equipment side of the business, commented that energy efficiency and better use of labor were the dominant themes. Buying and installing more energy-efficient equipment is being driven by two factors: a need to reduce overhead to help offset additional costs that may result from full implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and a desire to present a “green” image to customers and the public. New technology to reduce the kilowatt hours needed to keep food at the proper temperature and to run warewashers were demonstrated by several companies. Fryers that use less oil and allow that oil to be used longer were introduced. Also picking up steam is the recycling of used cooking oil and the technology that converts it to usable biodiesel.

If you were an exhibitor at the 2013 NRA Show and didn’t make as many contacts as you had hoped or didn’t develop enough leads, visit and request a live demonstration of our online database of chain restaurant operators, a compilation of 7,000 foodservice companies located in the U.S. and Canada. You can also contact CSG at 800-927-9292.