Thursday, August 16, 2012

Top food trends from the 2012 LRA EXPO

Every year as we are making our way up and down aisles visiting exhibitors, restaurateurs and checking out the latest and greatest products and services, certain trends begin to emerge. Just a few short days ago, we closed out the 59th Annual Louisiana Foodservice & Hospitality EXPO and we definitely noticed some common themes among exhibiting companies and topics of discussion in our first-ever IDEA ZONE.

The Times-Picayune's food writer Judy Walker gave an overview of her time on the EXPO floor in this morning Living Section, in the article, Flavor trends and food art at the state's restaurant trade show." 

In no particular order, here’s what we determined as the top trends based on our own observations and feedback from attendees:

Seasonings and sauces

How much hot sauce, sauces and seasonings can your pantry hold? Ours is overrun and we love it! It’s what keeps our creative culinary juices flowing and they were certainly prevalent at the EXPO. Launching a new seasoning blend or sauce at the EXPO is sure to garner a company a ton of exposure. The EXPO is a captive audience of restaurateurs and chefs seeking the latest greatest flavor profile to wow their guests. National trends point to diners wanting more exotic flavors. The easiest way to transform a customer’s palate is to use international spices, seasonings and sauces!

Seafood Sustainability

Harlon Pearce of Harlon's LA Fish features a chef demo
in his booth and invites his customers for a three-course meal
using fresh Gulf seafood. BBQ shrimp was on the menu
Sunday during the EXPO.
Between the Great American Seafood Cookoff, the exhibiting fisheries and the IDEA ZONE session, “Fish of the Gulf with Chef Brian Landry,” seafood sustainability is more important today than ever before in the restaurant industry. With more imports making their way into the supply chain, keeping Louisiana seafood top of mind for restaurateurs and consumers was evident by the many encounters we had with the topic during the EXPO. The LRA actually had a big hand in this being a trending topic and we encourage members, whenever possible, to utilize our greatest natural resource- local seafood- on their menus!

Eco-friendly disposables

While this is not a new trend nationally, at the LRA EXPO this year, those exhibitors with eco-friendly disposable plates, serving ware and utensils were swarmed with attendees. The look of bamboo disposables is modern and unique and if you are hosting an event for an eco-conscious client or just want to make it standout, these products might be just the ticket. Using eco-friendly products are a small way restaurants can reduce their carbon footprint.

The PeaceBaker joined Dianne Schafer during the
Gluten Free Idea Zone presentation with a variety of
gluten free desserts like the whoppie pies pictured here.
Gluten Free

It’s estimated that more than 10 million Americans are gluten intolerant. More and more restaurateurs are encountering diners that have such allergies and are intolerant of wheat products. An IDEA ZONE presentation by Dianne Schafer of the Celiac Sprue New Orleans Chapter drew a crowd of nearly 50 as she shared valuable information for restaurateurs and chefs about how gluten-free menus can be prepared for this incredibly loyal customer base. She was joined by the Peace Baker, a gluten free, dairy free and vegan baker who’s made a name for herself in the New Orleans area in the past few months. The bakery hasn’t even had its Grand Opening yet, and it can hardly close for the day, as gluten intolerant customers from across the metro area flock to the Peace Baker to purchase its wares.

Specialty meats/charcuterie

Nationally, specialty meats and charcuterie is hot right now, and it’s seeing a resurgence in Louisiana, where we’re known for boudin, sausages and smoked and cured meats. It was no wonder that exhibitors serving artisan beef, duck and procuitto had the attention of the crowds. Ian Barrilleaux with Cochon Butcher’s “Charcuterie Showdown” in the IDEA ZONE gave attendees a historical overview and information on profitability, taste, texture and popularity of various smoked and cured meats. Diners are looking for authenticity in their food, and what better way to pay homage to the past than to master the art of this ancient form of meat preservation?

Presentations that WOW

Capitol City Produce used their fresh
fruit and vegetables to capture their take
on the EXPO theme, "the Art of Hospitality."
The theme of the 2012 EXPO, “The Art of Hospitality” was visible from virtually every spot on the show floor. Many companies used the theme to inspire their booth designs which resembled art galleries and paintings. Presentation is a key component to the dining experience in the restaurant industry. In addition to these visual displays, Chef Tory McPhail commanded the attention of nearly 130 attendees in his IDEA ZONE session, “Eating with your Eyes: Presentations that Wow! And diners and restaurateurs alike value presentation, as McPhail’s session had the most attendees of the three-day IDEA ZONE. It’s important to remember that guests want an experience when they dine out at a restaurant. And with the prevalence of sharing “food porn” on social media platforms, how a plated dish looks is becoming as important as how it tastes.

Mixers and liquid flavorings

Plain old H20 just doesn’t have the same allure as mango peach vitamin water. It was evident that many companies are tapping into the popularity of kicked up beverages—alcoholic or not. From mixers inspired by popular alcoholic beverages to fruit flavored Moscato varieties, beverage companies are offering unique and flavorful ways to jazz up ordinary refreshments.

Community Coffee brings their Trolley to the EXPO every
year. This year, the Trolley was set up next to the first
Idea Zone, which made it a popular stop for attendees.

We noticed coffee at every turn during the EXPO. Coffee is certainly nothing new in Louisiana, but its popularity is certainly notable, as it’s mother’s milk for many of us, especially after an exciting three days at the EXPO, where a jolt of caffeine keeps you going. Given the long hours many of us put in daily serving others in our industry, the options seem to be growing as companies vie for loyalty. With the EXPO sitting right on the Port of New Orleans, Louisiana-based coffee producers view the EXPO as a must as they market their unique blends to a food centric crowd—many of which grew up drinking coffee milk.

Did you attend the EXPO? What were the stand out trends for you? Next year is the big 6-0, and we are already discussing EXPO themes!

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