NAFEM 2019 Preview
The 23rd biennial foodservice equipment show promises interactive experiences and unique networking opportunities for attendees.
The NAFEM (North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers) Show started humbly in 1973, when the first event was hosted in Dallas. Back then, 3,000 attendees explored a 55,000-square-foot exhibit space, viewing the newest foodservice equipment for commercial kitchens, restaurants, bars, catering, and more.
Much has changed in the industry—and with the biennial NAFEM show—in the ensuing 46 years. The 2019 event in Orlando is expected to be the biggest ever, drawing 20,000 attendees, 600 exhibitors, and about 950 different products over an expansive 380,000-square-foot space at the Orange County Convention Center.
Programming for the show also has evolved since those early days, so to help guide you through February’s event (7th - 9th), we spoke with Deirdre Flynn, executive VP at NAFEM, for a sneak peek of what to expect.
Hotel F&B: For our readers who are new to NAFEM, what can you tell them about this year’s show?
Flynn: This will be the fourth time the show has been in Orlando, and it will be our largest show ever. This is the first major 2019 foodservice show in North America and is an opportunity for exhibitors to showcase new innovations. What we try to focus on more than anything is providing education to the buyer on the tradeshow floor. We have roughly the same amount of companies exhibiting this year but we have about 30,000 more square feet of space. A lot of that is expansion of product lines and new products being introduced. We feel very fortunate the economy is good right now so there’s a need for the extra room.
Hotel F&B: Why is NAFEM held every other year?
Flynn: Every other year has served us well, because the focus is exclusively on equipment and supplies. NAFEM is a means of displaying how that equipment works, how it functions, and how it can perform. Every other year allows for noticeable changes and innovations in the industry and operations, whether it’s an independent restaurant, a chain, or high-volume, institutional feeding in some form. The capital investment purchases for those operations are not something that typically happens every year, especially if they’re looking to streamline processes in the kitchen or adapt menus to the latest innovations that are available.
Hotel F&B: For our readers who attended NAFEM in 2017, what’s different about this year’s show?
Flynn: The past couple of shows we’ve had a “What’s Hot! What’s Cool!” pavilion where we established a set of criteria, and NAFEM members submitted products that were innovative on the hot or cold foodservice side of the industry, and it has been very well received. The hope is that attendees can come in and browse through the “What’s Hot! What’s Cool!” gallery, and visit the booths and the companies connected to those products.
This year, we expanded and created a What’s Hot! What’s Cool! What Works!” lounge on the show floor that will display products NAFEM members submitted that have helped operators successfully solve problems. So those vendors applied to be part of the lounge, with the support of corresponding operators.
So we’re telling little stories around certain products so attendees will get to see how a product helped an operation address an issue that was of concern to them and how attendees could apply it to their own operations. It’s a different approach for us, and we’ll see how those stories and testimonials are received by our exhibitors and customers on the practical value of it.
Hotel F&B: Aside from the actual show, what can attendees expect from this year’s NAFEM-sponsored networking events?
Flynn: There are two traditional NAFEM networking events. The first is Wednesday evening, which is our kickoff party. It’s a ticketed event at the Hyatt Regency Orlando in a very cool outdoor space, and it’s an early reception from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. The idea is for attendees to network and arrange to see people over the course of the next three days.
We also have traditionally hosted an all-industry party, which is a casual networking event, and for the past couple shows, it’s been on Saturday night after the show closes. This year, we moved it back to Friday night to give people an opportunity to still see each other and exhibitors on Saturday. This will be in the convention center, and it’s a great big party with lots of emphasis on hospitality and great food, and Sheryl Crow is our entertainment, so it’s a combination party and concert.
Hotel F&B: What specific benefits are there for our readers working in hospitality foodservice to attend NAFEM?
Flynn: I think there’s a misconception in the foodservice industry that chains and quick service drive all the innovation, but that’s not true. We think the non-commercial side—hotels, cruise ships, business and industry, colleges and universities, hospitals, and senior living facilities—drive the innovation, and are better test markets.
Those from hospitality foodservice attending NAFEM will see products that are meant to save space, reduced costs, focus on energy savings, focus on sustainability, and allow output of a better product quicker, faster, and more flavorful, with a simpler operation. There’s a lot of technology in today’s equipment that didn’t exist 10 years ago in terms of temperature monitoring, labor moderation, antimicrobial surfaces, and things to keep food safe. So there are multi-use opportunities on the same piece of equipment that hospitality operators can use to change and adapt menus to meet what guests are craving in their establishments.
Hotel F&B: What are the future plans for the NAFEM Show?
Flynn: Our next shows are scheduled for 2021 and 2025 in New Orleans, 2023 and 2027 in Orlando, and 2029 in Atlanta. As for what’s happening in the culinary world as it relates to NAFEM, I think equipment and manufacturing will be more engaged at the concept level with industry professionals to be an integral part from concept to creation of a foodservice facility than ever before.
I also think recruiting and retaining talent will continue to be a hot topic, and for us that relates to labor-saving equipment—not to displace labor with technology, but how technology can help make that labor more valuable because it frees them up from doing something routine and channels their effort into something that adds more value back into the foodservice operation.
I heard a chain executive speak on the topic of minimum wage increases, and he said the infusion of technology into our industry makes that $15 an hour labor more valuable, because it provides growth potential for those employees in a way that wouldn’t have been captured before. It’s not science fiction; this technology will continue to enhance and evolve successful foodservice operations.