Sunday, March 1, 2009

Encouraging signs from the NY restaurant show

Today I’m attending the International Restaurant & Foodservice Show of New York, a regional gathering that has managed to draw bodies despite a dramatic drop-off in traffic at most industry meetings of recent years. Especially hard-hit have been the big national conferences, with local events like this one picking up some of the fall-out.

This year doesn’t appear to be an exception, despite the economic climate. The first educational session I attended, on the menu preferences of the so-called Millenial Generation, had a turnout that would be good in the best of times. We’re talking 11:30 on a cold, snowy Sunday. Yet there had to be at least 40 people there.

The same pleasant surprise was served up on the show floor. There was actually a back-up at the entry points as attendees tried to thread their way into the exhibit area. At midday, I couldn’t get down some aisles.

But that didn’t mean all booths were busy. Indeed, there were glimmers of a pattern. Artisan products like cheeses or desserts seemed to be drawing interest, whereas the booths of some well-known industry brands seemed to have far less traffic. New products, like micro-greens, had a throng. Not so some of the old familiar sorts of products.

Interestingly, the first session this morning was on the eating habits of Gen Y-ers. The hottest trend within that crop of tomorrow’s customers, according to presenter-slash-Princeton Executive chef Robert Harbison, is authentic Indian cuisine.

I wasn’t exactly tripping over booths hawking those sorts of products on the show floor.

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