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Despite the prevalence of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean foods all over the National Restaurant Association’s 2014 NRA show at Chicago’s McCormick Place, May 17-20, gluten-free foods maintained a widespread presence, confirming their incredible growth in the bakery and snack food markets.
Today’s consumers are more interested than ever before in what they eat and where their food comes from, and that is reflected in our menu trends research. “True trends, as opposed to temporary fads, show the evolution of the wider shifts of our modern society over time, and focus on the provenance of various food and beverage items, unique aspects of how they are prepared and presented, as well as the dietary profiles of those meals,” says Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of the NRA’s research and knowledge group.
Some 75 booths at this year's show featured gluten-free products, and others showcased foods to meet other nutritional needs, including vegan cheesecake from Eli's Cheesecake Co. Case in point: Restaurants are taking gluten-free much more seriously to attract more diners. According Jennifer North of the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, sales of gluten-free foods products are getting close to the $20 billion mark.
Another example, Kiki’s Gluten Free Foods L.L.C., Arlington Heights, Ill., developed frozen, individually packaged (preventing cross-contamination) gluten-free, deep-dish pizza for all types of restaurants. And Deya’s Gluten Free, out of Bronxville, N.Y., displayed a gluten-free flour blend that uses dried egg whites as a main ingredient. The flour can be used as a one-to-one replacement for traditional flour, without the characteristic differences in texture or after-taste, allowing operators to easily make gluten-free versions of flour-based recipes.
Sandwich wraps, both gluten-free and regular, continue to grow in both quick-service and grab-and-go channels. Now, they may be made using new 12-in Tumaro’s gluten-free flour tortillas from Blue Marble Brands, Providence, R.I. And the array of tortilla, potato, veggie and bean chips that are gluten-free was almost as large as the nongluten-free version.
Also sprinkled throughout the three exhibit halls were a number of exhibitors showcasing better-for-you solutions for school foodservice and other venues. And scattered all over the monumental space at the event were combination concepts, such as pizza crust/flatbreads from Long Island, N.Y.'s Ultra-Thin Pizza Shells & Flatbreads, which introduced a tasty pretzel pizza crust. Pretzel items are still popular for burger buns and dinner rolls, so why not pizza?
As for spicy, it’s moving to every kind of food served at restaurants. Sriracha, the trendy Southeast Asian chili sauce, is going into everything from potato chips and crackers to Bloody Mary mixes, seasoning powder and even the crispy Brakebush Brothers chicken batter for its new chicken tenders.
Image by Oscar Einzig