National Restaurant Association Show Reunites Foodservice Industry With Triumphant 2022 Return
More than 51,000 foodservice professionals flocked to Chicago's McCormick Place May 21-24 for the first time since 2019 to happily reconnect in person and indulge in this year's National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show (National Restaurant Association Show), the premier event to learn about foodservice technology innovations, unique ingredients and emerging trends in the restaurant industry.
“The 2022 show was one of the most anticipated events of the year, and after three long years, we couldn’t wait to bring the foodservice community back together to celebrate the advancements that drove the industry forward,” Tom Cindric, president of Winsight Exhibitions, which produces the show in collaboration with the National Restaurant Association. “From the vibrant tradeshow floor and latest innovations to new flavor trends and expert-led education sessions, there truly was something for everyone.”
By the Numbers
Attendees at the 2022 National Restaurant Association Show, the 101st edition of the event, included restaurant owners and operators, retail foodservice professionals, food and ingredient suppliers, equipment manufacturers and many others, with representation from all 50 U.S. states and more than 110 countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Mexico, United Kingdom, Argentina and many others.
More than 1,800 exhibitors, including more than 1,200 returning and more than 500 new companies, filled three exhibit halls and nearly 600,000 square feet of space at McCormick Place.
The energy on the floor was unmatched, with attendees expressing complete satisfaction at the innovation on display, the abundance of key decision-makers and the quantity and diversity of exhibitors.
Armetha Pihlstrom, senior director of U.S. and Canada foodservice sales for Future Farm, a manufacturer of plant-based meat alternatives and first-time exhibitor, was delighted with the company’s amazing experience at the show.
“The National Restaurant Association Show is the “Super Bowl” of foodservice,” Pihlstrom said. “This is where dreams come true for new brands trying to break into the industry and make a mark. The chains and restaurants I’ve spoken to are so high-profile, and we’re thrilled about what this means for our brand and for plant-based foods.”
Hugo Triviños, CEO of Mavesa Fenix, a chain in Honduras with 56 quick-service restaurants, brought the company’s franchisees and corporate team to the show to discover what was new in the industry and see what purveyors are available for his foodservice team.
“We saw our current suppliers’ entire catalogues in person, we added more suppliers to our list, and we saw new technology,” Triviños said. “We’ve never seen robotics in the way we did this year, and I expect we’ll be incorporating some into our operation.”
Jerry Vachaparambil, head of partnerships at The Cumin Culinary Brands, a virtual restaurant group started at the height of the pandemic, said the show is a priority for the company.
“We consider ourselves an innovative brand, so attending the show is important for our business,” Vachaparambil said. “Being here has allowed us to find new foods, technologies and products as well as build relationships.”
Guy Pratt, owner of Canada-based Chef Inspired Group of Restaurants, plans to develop new opportunities for the company’s brands and found the show ideal for carrying out that mission.
“There’s no better collection of innovators and companies to be around to get inspired,” Pratt said. “It’s the best food show I’ve ever been to, and I’ve been to a lot of them.”
2022 Show Highlights
With exhibitor innovations and trends, exceptional education and insight from industry thought leaders, chef and mixologist demonstrations, and festive networking events, this year’s show reflected renewed energy and enthusiasm and a zest for continued collaboration. Following are several highlights.
Vibrant Show Floor: This 2022 show floor was the ultimate destination to find inspiration and innovations in over 900 product categories—including food, beverage, equipment, technology, tableware, sanitation and everything in between. Exhibitors offered new solutions to today’s challenges in the restaurant industry, from the latest food and beverage trends to emerging technologies that will boost the bottom line.
A Firsthand Look at the Latest Innovations: The largest Kitchen Innovations Showroom in the event’s 100-plus-year history featured equipment with a focus on automation, efficiency, safety improvements, sustainability, waste solutions and more. Fireside chats and curated tours of the showroom were well-received by attendees. Additionally, three years’ worth of FABI award-winning items—food and beverage products that are breaking new ground in taste, creativity, packaging and profit potential—could be found throughout the show floor, complete with sampling opportunities. Zero-proof beverages, dairy-free and plant-based foods, and an increased emphasis on global flavors were just some of the product trends seen this year.
Celebrated Chefs and Master Mixologists: Attendees had the opportunity to see the chefs, culinary leaders, mixologists and beverage experts as they demonstrated techniques, discussed the industry’s biggest issues, and spotlighted the latest trends and innovations in food and beverage. This year, attendees experienced the debut of two new features on the show floor, The Culinary Experience and The Beverage Room, where celebrated chefs and master mixologists showcased their craft to help attendees keep menus and beverage programs on the cutting edge.
Innovative Thinkers: Alexis Ohanian, Seven Seven Six founder and Reddit co-founder, took center stage on Saturday, May 21, as the show’s keynote speaker, presented by American Express. He shed new light on how creating and embracing disruption can amplify growth and produce positive transformations. During the session, moderated by Starr Marcello of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, Ohanian offered his perspectives on how the latest technologies—including NFTs, Web3 and the metaverse—are impacting the foodservice industry today. He stated that even with these technologies, “we are still a species that needs offline interaction.” He emphasized that there is “tremendous competition for attention,” so restaurants need to invest in being “thoughtful and intentional” to thrive, adding that creating a fear of missing out through rotating or limited-run menus may help drive consumer interest.
A Robust Education Lineup: The 2022 education program featured an array of sessions, deep-dive workshops and live demos designed to provide forward-looking insights, new perspectives and strategies to facilitate growth. With nearly 100 sessions covering seven education tracks—Culinary Insights, Operations Solutions, Technology Strategies, The New Consumer, Trends in Adult Beverage, Wellness and Workforce Recruitment and Development— attendees heard from thought leaders who are helping to reimagine foodservice and build the future of the industry. Paid workshops offered hands-on immersion for over 600 operators into industry opportunities, including ghost kitchens, virtual brands and navigating the technology landscape. In one featured session, presented by Uber Eats, technomic experts and restaurant operators answered questions about the most pressing issues facing the industry today, including inflation, supply chain management, labor challenges, ghost kitchens, shifting consumer demographics, social responsibility, sustainability and technology.
Sold-Out Industry Night Out: During one of the show’s signature evening events, Industry Night Out, attendees celebrated their return to the show after three years. Leading up to the show, attendees participated in a month-long cocktail tournament to determine which concoctions should be featured at Industry Night Out. Attendees sampled the four cocktail finalists, alongside artfully selected food pairings, and voted to crown the Color Changing Galaxy Spiked Lemonade as the 2022 Project Beverage Champion. This concoction won over voters with its unique, bright and fresh flavor profile that is perfect for summer menu pairings.
Give-Back Initiative: One of the firsts at the show this year was the kickoff of an initiative to support the ongoing efforts of World Central Kitchen by Chef José Andrés. On top of the amount raised at the show, Winsight Exhibitions will contribute an additional $10,000 to support World Central Kitchen’s efforts in providing meals in response to humanitarian, climate and community crises in the U.S. and abroad. Donations will continue to be accepted throughout the summer: donate.wck.org/2022RestaurantShow.
The 2023 National Restaurant Association show will take place May 20-23 at McCormick Place.