We attended the National Restaurant Association’s NRA Show at McCormick Place in Chicago back in May 2015. With 2.6 million square feet of exhibit space available, McCormick is a monster of a facility, making it ideally suited for large events. The NRA Show 2015 was no exception. With over 2,000 exhibitors and over 40,000 visitors spread across three different halls, the NRA Show certainly made for a long day of walking. But needless to say, there was plenty to eat!
With shows of this magnitude, and with so many clients exhibiting under one roof, we typically send a small marketing team to talk one-on-one with each client to hear about what worked and what didn’t and what we could do to make their experience any better. This ethnographic research is what keeps us close to our customer’s needs and contributes to continuing innovation. We also capture plenty of images of those exhibits and occasionally will film an interview with a willing client or two.
Overall the show was very impressive. There was a good mix of exhibits, although it felt like the majority of exhibits were either very large or very small with not a lot in the middle. Of course the biggest aspect of the show was the immense of amount of samples and live demonstrations. Exhibitors were there to grab the attention of food service buyers with their unique product or service and the most effective way to do that is to either sample it or demonstrate it live; therefore much of each exhibitor’s booth space tended to be comprised of sampling areas (tables), live demonstration areas and storage.
As for design trends (structural, graphic, experiential or otherwise), the most obvious would be that just about every exhibit larger than an inline had some type of suspended overhead signage structure, making it quite a challenge for brands to cut through the clutter from any kind of distance while at the same time establishing the need for a vertical presence of some sort as a minimum requirement. Brand experiences were big when they could be, with many full walk-in café type areas, bars and seating. From a surface perspective, wood texture was rather popular, as we’ve seen in many other shows over the past few years with everything from actual aged barnwood to veneers, laminates, flooring and graphics. Big bold clean colors, backlit graphics and digital interaction all continue to see increased popularity as well.
Overall, if we had to pick one exhibit design that stood out to us at the 2015 NRA Show, it would have to be the Chobani exhibit. It was very clean and inviting, with open areas around the perimeter to grab a pour-over from La Colombe or to sit and enjoy the yogurt you just picked up at the yogurt bar in the middle. The color pallet was earthy and neutral with mostly solid browns, whites and blacks and accents of wood. Simple, clean and to the point, with plenty to draw you in.