I highly recommend the NRA Weekend in Chicago. However, it may not be for the reason you think. Yes, walking the show is worthwhile, depending on your interests. But just as important, is picking out 2-3 sessions (out of 75 offered) and going-to-school on what some of our industry’s leaders are doing with their concepts. I also visited about a dozen different restaurant concepts during my weekend, and I want to share a few highlights with you.

  1. Chickpeas – the high protein, high fiber ingredient is showing up in more places

Pasta and chips? Yes! Banza® created “Pasta 2.0” by loosing the carbs and making pasta out of chickpeas. Maya Kaimal used them to make delicious chips – a much healthier option than it’s counterpart!

  1. Fruits from the Amazon/Brazil – in drink syrups and Amafruits frozen purees and sorbets

Could these authentic rainforest fruits potentially provide more authentic, superior tasting recipes? Kaly Natural Syrups created a tasty syrup for both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, taking our tastebuds to the Amazon forest!

  1. Upgrading/Sophistication of the Classics  

Millennials want more than their Boomer parents. They want it different, better, more interesting.

Little Goat in Chicago, IL, is serving this up well. Their Bulls Eye French Toast is well-named with it’s delicious French toast, served with eggs, crispy chicken, sweet onion brioche, and BBQ maple syrup. For dessert – their Beatrix! It’s a dipped-chocolate angel food cake muffin.

Our industry is going through multiple disruptions right now and we all need to have a strategy for how we are going to effectively compete in a changed world.  By 2020, Millennials will be the largest restaurant buying segment. 

So, the good news?  We still have time to get ready.  But if you think that all your restaurant/brand needs are a few “tweeks”—you are likely in for a surprise.  If you did not make it to Chicago this year, put it onto your calendar for 2017…it’s a rare opportunity for us to escape our own “bubble” and see the new restaurant world that is rapidly coming our way.