Every year, two of the largest food and beverage expos, the National Restaurant Association (NRA) and Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), showcase the latest and greatest in innovations. From manufacturers and operators to developers, thousands gather at these events for ideas and inspiration from some of the industry’s leading experts.

Here are a few highlights from each.

NRA Show

On May 18–21, the NRA celebrated 100 years at their annual show in Chicago. While looking back at past years and successes, the show kept a future-forward focus on new trends. Take a look:

Cold Brew Heats Up

The cold brew craze is still taking over the beverage world, so it was no surprise to see it took over yet another expo. Operators gathered tips and inspiration on how to incorporate the cold coffee technique to meet growing customer demand. One popular trend on display was the creative versatility of cold brew coffee as the base for a variety of drinks. For example, the classic summer shandy got a modern update as a refreshing combo of cold brew coffee with real lemonade and fresh orange. Another noticeable twist on cold brew this year was the use of tea as innovators seek to move beyond the bean and appeal to a broader customer base.

Regular Beverages Get a Boost

Adding better-for-you ingredients to beverages is helping operators capitalize on current trends while boosting their bottom line with higher-priced menu items. At this year’s NRA show, the beverage boundaries were pushed like never before with a wide variety of functionally infused beverages on display. One noticeable trend was collagen. Commonly used for anti-aging, collagen has massive appeal that’s officially made its way into food and beverage and was spotted in a variety of drinks from specialty coffees to smoothies. Another major trend spotted was the use of matcha, which offers a vibrant flavor along with powerful antioxidants and a healthy energy boost thanks to the amino acid L-Theanine. Most often found in tea, matcha is packed with the taste and benefits consumers are craving.

More Tools Means More Customization

Whether it’s a more streamlined ordering experience or machines that can create a digital image on latte foam, it is no secret that operators can set themselves apart by offering an experience tailored to customers’ wants and needs. However, customization is essential for back of the house, too, as it can play a major role in efficiency. This year’s show featured a wide range of new tools and technology aimed at showing operators how easy and important it is to track and manage their food waste, customer data, labor, food costs and so much more.

IFT Conference

Themed “Feed Your Future,” the 79th annual IFT conference, held in New Orleans June 2–5, focused on food and beverage innovations of every scale. Here are a few of this year’s takeaways:

Sustainability Stays at the Forefront

Sustainable initiatives such as global supply chain changes, accessibility, safety and waste management were a significant focus of the event, aimed at helping manufacturers meet their internal goals. With consumers continuing to seek out more responsible production with less waste, sustainable and transparent practices are key to long-term success.

CBD Explodes

The cannabis trend is penetrating nearly every industry, with food and beverage manufacturing at the top of the list. From oils to hemp seeds, CBD was one of the most talked about new ingredients found in infused drinks, snack items and everything in between.

‘Bad’ Ingredients Get Better

Food scientists are hard at work to discover or create better-for-you versions of salt, butter and other essential ingredients. Innovations include Allulose, a rare sugar that boasts zero calories and has zero effects on blood sugar; Epogee, a fat replacer that reduces calories by over 90 percent; and Alberger, a hollow salt crystal that provides a flavor punch without the density of regular salt. No matter the alternative, one thing is for sure: Customers want to make good choices without sacrificing great taste.

Plant-Based Paves the Way

Plant-based products that expertly mimic their original inspiration were seen in everything from prepared “meats” to baked goods, and drinks were no different. From coffee made with aquafaba and carob to recipes featuring nearly every type of alternative milk, this year’s expo further reinforced the growing demand for plant-derived ingredients in virtually every variety.

Both events successfully showcased the tools and technology behind the industry’s latest trends. With these innovations in mind, both operators and manufacturers can exceed consumer needs while staying on top of both internal operations and external impact.