2022 National Restaurant Show Trends and Innovations

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  • June 08, 2022
NRA sign

The National Restaurant Show took over Chicago’s McCormick Place last week showcasing the latest restaurant innovations. This four-day event that brings together over 60,000 food service professionals came back to life after the pandemic as it introduced us to the latest trends in the industry.  What do you think of the 2022 National Restaurant Association trends?

NRA exhibit floor

Exhibitors and attendees alike were happy to be seeing colleagues once again and talking shop. There was definitely an energy throughout the halls to get back to business as we knew it. This is a very big show which means lots to see and explore. Very easy to get those 10,000 plus steps in!


As I explored the different halls, I began to see a number of trends and new products with central themes.

Key categories include:

  • Plant-based
    • Seafood
    • Meats
    • Milk/dairy
  • Hot and Spicy 
  • Non-alcoholic beverages
  • New cocktails and portability
  • International foods
  • Loved products with a twist
  • Sustainable 
  • Labor Shortages
    • Robots and AI
    • Recipe solutions



This market is rapidly growing across categories. Plant-based foods are attracting flexitarians with the diverse options. 41% of consumers across the globe are now eating more plant-based foods than they did a year ago. Menu mentions of oat milk have increased 50% year over year in the U.S. There are a lot of plant based milk opportunities on the horizon becoming the next oak milk. A lot of the innovation is coming from nuts and seeds. 


Mind Blown Plant Based Seafood Co.


O’Sole Mio 

chickenless pasta

Daring Chicken

Impossible Foods

Nasoya Plantspired

Morningstar Farms

Vegan Fried Chick*n

vegan meat


Perfect Day Barista Milk

Oatly Oat Milk

Ripple Foods

Using protein from yellow peas, Ripple Foods creates creamy and protein filled products like plant based milk, protein shakes, frozen desserts and dairy free American cheese slices. Sustainably produced and using significantly less water than dairy and other dairy alternatives, Ripple is built on the truth that even the smallest actions can have far reaching impacts. 

Ripple plant based milk


Eclipse Plant Based Ice Cream


This flavor profile is found in sauces, ingredients, salty and even sweet categories. The latter discovered at the Sweets and Snacks Expo following the NRA.  

All Spice Cafe Sauces 


Stewart’s Spiked

Hard soda seltzer spiked with classic Stewart’s flavors. Root Beer was the start of Stewart’s fame. 

spiked cocktails Stewarts

Hard Rock Cocktails

Ready-to-drink cocktails inspired by the signature drinks at the Hard Rock.  

Hard Rock cocktails


Women owned BuzzBallz Cocktails is a ready-to-drink adult beverage brand made with 100% juices and creams and premium spirits. 13 different cocktail combinations offering less sugar and no high-fructose corn syrup. Convenient to enjoy while at outdoor events whether patios or picnics in the park. 


Sprindrift cocktails



Blind Tiger Spirit Free Mocktails

Gruvi alcohol free cocktail mixers


Consumers anticipate ordering mainstream and unique emerging global foods more going forward than they did before the pandemic. Influential flavors are becoming more of interest as demographics play a part. Younger diners are more adventurous in exploring these flavors as they are looking for authenticity. Hawaiian, Western Africa and Korean are just a few examples of growing food tastes.

  • 27% of consumers say they are eating more unique types of global foods now than they were two years ago. 
  • 37% of consumers say they want to discover new flavors. 

Bellavita pizza ovens

Pizza ovens working hard every day producing mouthwatering pizzas using the best of the Italian flours in the Bellavita exhibit

Bellavita pizza maker

New flours introduced like this Infibra Superfood Alga Spirulina Flour.

Infibra superfood alga spirulina flour

Infigra superfood alga pizza


My housewares and food service worlds collide while talking with Lodge Cast Iron Cookware. 

  • Lodge Cookware for commercial use is now dishwasher safe. 
  • Lodge Blacklock is a lighter version of their traditional cast iron cookware. 
  • Lodge bakeware now have helper handles rather than the long handle of a fry pan. 
  • Lodge now owns Finex, a premium line of high end cast iron cookware with notable details.  Lodge cookware


Single use products represent a significant contribution to our environmental pollution. Many brands are creating solutions to this by designing re-usable items like these cans of water or edible straws.

Edible Straws

edible straws

Metal Re-usable Cans of Water

Open Water

metal reusable cans of water


From sauces to mixers (alcoholic and non) along with pre-made spice packages, steps to ease the operational aspect of serving guests was shared with attendees.  Labor savers also assist in preparation in the restaurant/bar space with frozen cocktail slushies from a machine offered by a number of brands. 

Kelvin Slush Co.

Robotics and AI

Voice recognition, automated ordering, algorithms and labor shortages are benefiting from the use of technology. The implementation of robotics to help in kitchens was demonstrated on the showroom floor from mixing ingredients to serving dishes from Nala Robotics. Watch it in action.

robotic kitchen help

An Israeli food technology company, SavorEat, unveiled its robot-chef platform which creates a personalized plant based burger. Using an app, diners will be able to customize their patty that best suits their lifestyle and preferences.   

The pandemic brought about an increased food safety demand that is being met even at shows like this one. Chicago’s own, Eli’s Cheesecake, offered a sealed slice of their beloved cheesecake to sample instead of serving open on a plate. Thank you, Eli’s Cheesecake!

National Restaurant Show Eli's Cheesecake sample

While this show is geared for those in the food service industry – restaurants, brands, distributors, kitchen equipment manufacturers – there are still takeaways that apply to the consumer. One big message is that we as diners/customers are being heard when it comes to the way we are eating whether by choice or for medical reasons.

It’s always interesting to look back on previous National Restaurant Association trends like these from 2019. This has been an exciting few days of education, demonstrations, conversations and business. I am looking forward to seeing what trends come from the 2023 National Restaurant Show! 

If you are interested in attending the National Restaurant Association Show, visit the website to sign up for news on next year’s show. 



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