National Restaurant Association Show Serves Up Global Foodservice Innovation, Boasts Record Surge in New Exhibitors
The National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show recently welcomed tens of thousands of foodservice industry buyers, suppliers and manufacturers to Chicago’s McCormick Place to explore and celebrate the latest innovations, trends and solutions in food and beverage. Held May 20-23, the show brought together nearly 55,000 foodservice professionals from the U.S. and across the globe, reporting an 8% growth in total registrants compared to 2022, a large uptick in international participation and a massive surge in new exhibiting companies.
Serving as the ultimate sourcing destination for restaurant and hospitality buyers, the 2023 National Restaurant Association Show provided unparalleled opportunities to explore the latest trends and establish invaluable business relationships, according to show officials.
“The National Restaurant Association Show concluded its 2023 edition as the undisputed epicenter of the foodservice industry,” said Tom Cindric, president of Winsight Exhibitions, which owns and operates the show in partnership with the National Restaurant Association.
He continued, “With its unparalleled showcase of foodservice brilliance and an impressive show floor buzzing with unrivaled energy, the show united professionals from around the world, inspiring trends, fostering global collaboration and providing leading education. As the premier global gathering, it stood as a testament to the industry’s vitality, driving innovation and shaping the future of the culinary world.”
A Sizable Jump in International Attendance
Attracting attendees from 107 countries, this year’s event also marked an historic milestone, with the highest percentage of international attendees relative to overall attendance since data has been recorded, according to show officials. International attendance accounted for 15% of the total registration, marking an 11% increase from the previous year.
The show witnessed remarkable growth in participation from Asian countries in particular, with an 80% increase in registrations compared to the previous year, a rise significantly attributed to Japan, Taiwan and the Philippines. Latin America, the Caribbean and North America (Canada and Mexico) remained strong partners, while Brazil represented its largest-ever attendance, with a 45% increase from last year and 31% more attendees than in 2019.
“The remarkable international participation was made possible through invaluable partnerships with the U.S. Department of Commerce (USDOC) and the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA), and the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS),” Cindric explained. “The USDOC's Trade Event Partnership Program (TEPP) brought together 29, accounting for 35% of the overall international numbers. The NASDA/FAS partnership witnessed a 14% increase in delegates compared to the previous year and introduced the A Taste of the States pavilion, showcasing diverse culinary offerings from various regions within the U.S.”
He added, “This record-breaking international presence solidifies the National Restaurant Association Show as a premier global gathering where industry professionals shape the future of the culinary industry on a worldwide scale.”
An Expanded Showfloor of Foodservice Innovation
Boasting an expansive exhibition space spanning more than 661,000 square feet, the showfloor hosted more than 2,100 manufacturers and suppliers – a nearly 17% increase in exhibitors compared to 2022 – and more than 800 first-time exhibitors, who represented an impressive 61% increase over 2022’s first-time exhibitor total.
With a significant 12% expansion in exhibit space year-over-year, the showfloor provided exhibiting companies with a vast platform to present cutting-edge products across more than 900 categories, including food and beverage, equipment, technology, tableware and sanitation, within an array of featured specialty pavilions.
Additionally, more than 280 international exhibiting companies from across the globe, including a strong return of participation from China, Japan and South Korea, showcased their products and innovations across specialty pavilions inspired by international cultures and cuisines.
“Attendees are looking for ideas, what’s new, what’s innovative and how they can appeal to today’s consumers with premium center-of-the-plate options,” said 16-year Exhibitor Steven Ginsburg, national director of sales at Halperns’ Steak & Seafood. “We look forward to exhibiting at the Restaurant Show every year because of the opportunity to talk directly with leading restaurateurs and chefs who are shaping the food service industry.”
The show’s Startup Alley featured many first-time exhibitors showcasing food and beverage items, equipment, supplies and technology that are helping the industry move forward with fresh, new ideas in foodservice, while the TECH Pavilion featured the leading products, tools and processes designed to help make businesses more modern, efficient and profitable.
“If you’re in the industry, this is the place to be,” said Chef Brian Duffy, TV personality and hospitality consultant. “You cannot even imagine how many opportunities there are for inspiration, for innovation, for new ways to run your business and new items to put on your menu.”
To help facilitate business opportunities on the showfloor, the show offers RestaurantShowXchange, a matching program that connects interested buyers and sellers based on information and selections provided during the registration process, according to show officials.
Inspiring Educational Opportunities and Speakers
The event also offered an engaging lineup of visionary speakers, including renowned restauranteur Danny Meyer and Pinky Cole, CEO and founder of Slutty Vegan, ATL, who provided captivating keynotes sharing their insights and success stories. Attendees also took advantage of featured sessions led by industry thought leaders, expert insights leaders from Technomic and Winsight Media and top industry operators, who shared valuable insights on labor, menu trends and innovation.
Meanwhile, the show’s extensive education program featured more than 85 sessions, deep-dive workshops and live culinary and beverage demos, along with networking meetups bringing together industry experts and thought leaders across various tracks, including Culinary Insights, Marketing Matters, Off-Premise, Operations Solutions, Technology Strategies, Trends in Adult Beverages, Wellness and Workforce Recruitment and Retention.
Attendees had the opportunity to learn from a diverse lineup of speakers, with more than 170 foodservice leaders sharing their knowledge and expertise to provide forward-looking insights, new perspectives and growth-oriented strategies.
Celebrated culinary leaders, including Rick Bayless, Lauren Von Der Pool, Gemma Stafford, Brian Duffy, Nancy Silverton, Sean Sherman, Zoe Adjonyoh and Jeff Mauro, headlined engaging live demonstrations and discussions on the latest trends and innovations in food and beverage, while the show’s Beverage Room showcased top mixologists and beverage experts offering captivating demos and discussions on practical business strategies.
Awards and Initiatives
The show also presented its fair share of coveted awards honoring industry innovators and groundbreakers, including the Food and Beverage (FABI) Awards and the Kitchen Innovations (KI) Awards, which showcased 62 outstanding products and solutions.
Project Beverage, an ongoing initiative that explores the hottest adult beverage trends and opportunities for growth, also returned to the show this year. Building on its previous success, the project aims to drive innovation and unleash creativity in beverage offerings by bringing together industry leaders, mixologists and beverage enthusiasts to explore new flavors, techniques and experiences.
Throughout March and April, the show community voted for their favorite experiential beverages in an online cocktail tournament. From multi-sensory drinks to luxury garnishes, sober-friendly menus to eye-catching presentations, the industry weighed in on their favorite experiential beverage trends and which drinks they want to see and taste in the final round at the show’s Industry Night Out.
According to show officials, the National Restaurant Association Show is committed to sustainability and works to minimize its environmental impact. After the event, robust recycling initiatives ensure the proper disposal of materials, while substantial food and beverage donations to local food pantries help address food insecurity in the local community.
“Each year, the National Restaurant Association Show becomes the epicenter of the foodservice world, attracting the brightest minds and boldest ideas,” Cindric said. “The energy on the show floor was unmatched, and we are thrilled with the overwhelming response and positive feedback we received.”
The National Restaurant Association Show will return to McCormick Place May 18-21, 2024.