Plant-Based Trend Takes Center Stage at Restaurant Show

Man and woman stand in Inland-Cape-Rice exhibit booth at tradeshow
Meagan and Sam Schneider
Jun 09, 2022
CHICAGO, IL - After a pandemic-related break, the National Restaurant Association show returned here with tens of thousands of industry professionals and more than 1,700 exhibitors.

Among the exhibitors were USA Rice members Cahokia Rice, Inland Cape Rice, and Best Rice, all of whom saw a steady stream of visitors inquiring about availability of U.S.-grown rice.

Best Rice was showcasing their parboiled solutions which is vital for foodservice while Inland and Cahokia did a fantastic job of putting a face to U.S. rice with farmer/owners Sam and Meagan Schneider, and Blake Gerard, respectively, in attendance working the crowds.

“The NRA show was a great opportunity for us to network with both domestic and foreign buyers looking for U.S.-grown rice,” said Sam Schneider.  “This was the first opportunity for us to get out and promote our brand since launching in 2019 due to COVID.  Thanks to our local state department of agriculture in Missouri, we were able to affordably promote and market U.S.-grown rice to potential new buyers.”

The program Schneider is referring to is offered by the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) and helps U.S. food and beverage companies reach new markets through tradeshows by offering exhibitors booths at discounted prices.

“This was our third year of attendance at this show through NASDA,” said Gerard.  “I would strongly encourage people to check out what’s offered in their state and take advantage of this valuable program.  We made a lot of contacts – the face-to-face interactions felt like a return to ‘normal’ – and opened up some new avenues for our business.”

The four-day show, the largest of its kind in North America, featured sessions on how to embrace innovation and turn disruption into opportunity, cooking demos by celebrity chefs, and the latest in food and beverage trends.

"By far the dominant trend was plant-based, alternative proteins," said Michael Klein, USA Rice vice president of marketing & domestic promotions, who sampled steak, chicken, and seafood made from all kinds of plants, including algae!  "It's setting up a real battle in the food regulatory space where milk, butter, and rice are already fighting pretenders, now protein needs to be looking over their shoulders."

Klein said consumer confusion is a serious issue that needs to be dealt with by regulators.

"Nobody wants to stifle innovation, and this is not a free speech issue, despite recent rulings.  But when consumers buy food, they should know what they're getting," he said.  "We'll see how this plays out.  Regulators are going to have their hands full."