May 30, 2024

Cool finds at the 2024 National Restaurant Association Show

From the rise of regenerative agriculture to the re-emergence of minis, we looked for the next stand-out trends.

Attendees at this year’s National Restaurant Association Show saw and sampled several new items that are setting trends around the country.

Attendees were buzzing in the aisles of the 2024 National Restaurant Association Show, hunting for new tastes and emerging trends. As we explored the expo floor with Chicago chefs Kathy Takemura and Anna Bauer, we found some of the latest trends shaping menus and the restaurant industry. Here’s some of what we saw.

Attendees sampled Kronos' ReadyCarved items, which were pre-marinated, partially cooked, individually quick-frozen, and prepared on a flat top grill, oven, or microwave.

Protein made easy: Protein—animal and plant-based—remains a cornerstone of menu development. Restaurant suppliers exhibited new protein innovations that delivered customizable and consistent solutions. Hormel Foods unveiled its  Battered Sous Vide Chicken. This first of its kind sous vide chicken breast was designed with convenience, customization, speed, and food safety in mind. Grecian Delight and KRONOS brands  prepared its 2024 FABI Favorites ReadyCarved Off-the-Cone Hand-Stacked, Whole Muscle Al Pastor Slices that are pre-marinated, partially cooked, and individually quick-frozen and can be prepared on a flat top grill, in an oven, or microwave. Rollin’ Greens showcased it shelf-stable Plant-Based Me’Eat Ground Taco, Chopped Fajita, Chorizo, and Chopped Fajita varieties making it easier for operators to offer plant-based options without the need for freezer or refrigeration. And Black Sheep Foods introduced its Plant-Based Meat Bites, also a 2024 FABI Favorite. 

Melinda’s presented Pineapple Jalapeno Pepper Jelly, marking pineapple as the latest complement to the sweet n’ spicy flavor trend.

Pineapple profusion: Pineapple stole the spotlight as the ultimate "flavor of the floor." Pineapple was found in beverages (energy drinks, frozen drinks, sodas, and smoothies), desserts, butters, sauces, and jellies. Stubborn Soda used pineapple as a new take on its Pineapple Cream Soda. Melinda’s displayed its Pineapple Jalapeno Pepper Jelly, marking pineapple as the latest sweet flavor to complement the ever-expanding sweet n’ spicy flavor trend. And it stood out as a regional Hawaiian flavor in Liko Lehua’s Pineapple Butter.

Hickory Nut Gap Meats collaborates with regional farmers to regeneratively raise high-quality, 100% grass-fed beef, pork, and poultry.

Surety of supply: The conversation has shifted from supply chain continuity to “surety of supply” with regenerative agriculture at the center of the discussion. Hickory Nut Gap Meats collaborates with regional U.S. farmers to regeneratively raise high-quality 100% grass-fed beef, pork, and poultry, making the farming process a key component of regenerative agriculture systems. Tidewater Grain Company showcased its rice and rice flours, including heirloom Carolina Gold and Santee Long Grain rice, grown using regenerative agriculture practices. Ensurity of supply also includes creating better-for-you foods from plants, Zero Acre Farms creates an all-purpose cooking oil made from rain-fed sugarcane plants. 

Traiteur de Paris sampled authentic French pastries in miniature.

Minis are making a comeback: Minis are set to become the next big trend…again. In the 2000s, mini burgers, desserts, and cupcakes were ubiquitous, from fast food to fine dining. Today, the expo floor was filled with mini versions of popular favorites, indicating a resurgence of these small delights on menus. Pidy displayed mini brownies, cheesecakes, and tarts, Traiteur de Paris sampled authentic French pastries in miniature, Eli’s Cheesecake Co. debuted its Mini Chocolate Chip Cookie Pie,  Turano Baking Co. and Martin’s offered samples of mini burger and sandwich buns, showing show-goers the opportunity to make a big impact with small bites.

Westrock Coffee shook up espresso martinis featuring Monin Cookie Butter Syrup.

Cookie is the new salted caramel: Cookie flavors seemed to replace salted caramel flavors on the expo floor. Snickerdoodle, sugar cookie, and cookie butter flavors were found in coffee, cocktails, and ice cream. Dippin’ Dots Ice Cream debuted its newest flavor, Frozeti Dough, which is sugar cookie-flavored ice cream with chocolate chip and chocolate cookie doughs. Additionally, Westrock Coffee shook up espresso martinis with Monin Cookie Butter Syrup, and sampled snickerdoodle iced coffee. 

Social media influence: One of the top trends identified in the 2024 What’s Hot Culinary Forecast (at No. 4), was incorporating social media food trends into menus. Virtual Dining Concepts allows online culinary creators to connect with fans by developing and delivering their trending recipes via delivery-only virtual kitchens. 

Upcycling is coming: During the show, we met a woman from Singapore representing At-Sunrice Global Chef Academy, which oversees a food upcycling business called Wellspent Gourmet2Go (tag line: Tasty, Gutsy, Earthly). 

Wellspent is a line of food products and finished meals made with the “spent” products left over when many foods are manufactured, such as orange peels from juicing, tofu dregs, egg shells, and draff or brewers’ spent grain, a byproduct of beer brewing (where the name Wellspent is derived).

A best seller is Orange Peel Magic, a marmalade/flavorful ingredient made from orange peels that has four times the vitamin C and 50 times more fiber than the juice, according to the company. Brewers’ spent grain is protein-rich because the starch is removed in the brewing process.

Other examples of upcycled products are okara (tofu dregs, a byproduct of tofu and soy milk production), eggshells (made into salts), coffee grounds and tea leaves incorporated into baked goods, defatted coconut (a byproduct of coconut milk production), fruit peels, vegetable pulp, moromi (a byproduct of soy sauce production), and crustacean shells. The products are incorporated into recipes and sold in ready-to-eat meals, pastries and cakes, snacks and seasonings. Wellspent is currently on the hunt for a U.S. distributor.