See related content: From the show floor: NRA expo booths.
click image to zoomJody SheeVictor Simas, vice president of Sid Wainer & Son, New Bedford, Mass., shows off the company’s Tableside Harvest Selection, a variety of vegetables shipped potted in trays and uncut, allowing guests to select which greens they would like for dinner from a cart brought to the tableCHICAGO — The economy, the government, food costs and sales volume are the top four challenges facing restaurant operators, according to a restaurant industry tracking survey from the National Restaurant Association.
The restaurant industry is projected to reach $660 billion in sales in 2013, moderate growth over last year and the fourth consecutive year of real sales growth, said Hudson Riehle, the association’s senior vice president of the research and knowledge group. Riehle gave the “State of the Foodservice Industry” at association’s Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show May 20.
He noted that the industry employs 13.1 million people among the 980,000 restaurant locations in the U.S. Some 47% share of the food dollar goes to restaurants, which keeps the industry thriving, even though consumer confidence has not been as robust as in previous years.
“The government is the biggest inhibitor of growth in consumer confidence,” Riehle said.
Yet, research shows that 93% of consumers like to go out to restaurants. Hot initiatives for 2013, rated by chefs, are related to local sourcing and kid’s nutrition.
Among the expo exhibits, about two dozen produce companies competed for attention to show their goods. Michael Boggiatto, president and general manager of Boggiatto Produce Inc., Salinas, Calif., said chefs are trying to differentiate themselves with produce variety, whether that be red corn, different colored beets or baby vegetables.
Jody SheeRiehle“A fast-food chain is really interested in our Iceberg Babies, because they see it as something different—out of the box,” he said. “It’s not enough to change the décor in the restaurant. Now you want to change the menu so you’re not serving the same old fare all the time.”
More than 62,500 people registered for the conference, according to the restaurant association. Adding a third exhibit hall brought extra floor space for the 2,100 exhibitors, nearly 40% of which were new.
“On the exhibitor side, the most substantial sign of growth was demonstrated by the opening of a third exhibit hall, North Hall, Level 1. This additional hall housed more than 400 exhibitors and was a hotbed for innovative products from up-and-coming exhibitors and well-known brands alike. With the additional third hall, exhibit space totaled more than 579,000 square feet, a 6.8 percent increase over 2012, with more than 2,100 exhibiting companies, nearly 40 percent of which were new.”