This spring saw the National Restaurant Association (NRA) recognize progressive new food and beverage products with the association’s 2016 Food and Beverage (FABI) Awards. Then each award recipient was showcased in May during the 2016 National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show at Chicago’s McCormick Place.

An independent panel of experts—representing a variety of both commercial and non-commercial industry segments—selected this year’s 26 FABI Award recipients based on their products’ benefits to restaurant operators as well as the end consumer.

“The FABI Awards provide restaurant operators a sneak peek at innovative menu items that address the desires customers are seeking,  as well as meeting operators desire for cost effective solutions,” said Lisa Ingram, convention chair for NRA Show 2016 and president and CEO of White Castle System, Inc. “The FABI award recipients demonstrate the craftsmanship and creativity today’s world increasingly demands—from creating more flavorful dishes for the end consumer to offering ingredient alternatives for gluten-free, paleo, and additional dietary restrictions.”

The FABI Award recipients are chosen by an independent panel of expert judges. They come from across foodservice, and represent some of the industry’s most well-known brands and organizations. The 2016 FABI judges included: Timothy J. Dietzler, director of Dining Services, Villanova University; Lori Estrada, senior vice president of R&D, Wendy’s; Christopher Koetke, CEC CCE HAAC, vice president, The School of Culinary Arts, Kendall College; John Li, senior vice president of R&D, Bloomin’ Brands; Jennifer Pollhammer, global procurement director, Aramark; Robin Rosenberg, vice president, chef de cuisine, Levy Restaurants; and Bret Thorn, senior food editor, Nation’s Restaurant News. 

2016 Food and Beverage Awards Winners

Judge’s Corner

Prepared Foods talks with John Li, senior vice president of R&D for Bloomin’ Brands Inc. This Tampa, Fla.,-based company is the parent to Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba’s Italian Grill, Bonefish Grill and Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar. Li was one of seven judges for the National Restaurant Association’s 2016 annual Food and Beverage Awards (FABI) program.

Prepared Foods: Which of this year’s NRA FABI winners most appealed to you for your operation?

John Li: My two favorite recipients are the Australis Barramundi and the Wagshal’s Prime Smoked Beef Brisket.

The Barramundi proves that you can have both amazing quality and good conscience with what you choose in your supply strategy.  Their sustainable approach to farming the fish and the quality and versatility of the finished product will hopefully make American consumers think beyond your typical fish species.

The Waghshal’s product still leaves an indelible memory because it was the one product that I am still craving three months after tasting the samples.  The use of USDA Prime helped establish best quality, then applying the right cut with a technique like smoking—which requires expertise and time that most do not have—really was a great marriage.  

PF: In the year since the 2015 NRA show, what have been a few ways you’ve most changed your own product menu offerings?
Can you share an example?

John Li:  We have made an effort to really be proud of the approach we take to our food preparation.  We’re including open kitchens in more of our restaurant designs and we take flavor development and food quality very seriously.  It’s a part of our culture across all our brands.

So for example, we have become more proactive about making sure our guests know we start with fresh produce that’s prepped each day in all of our concepts, use seasonally fresh fish at Bonefish Grill and bronze dye pastas from Italy at Carrabba’s.

PF: From a menu/product development standpoint, what are a few up-and-coming trends you’re watching that we will see at the 2017 NRA show?

John Li:  I am most interested in the increasing influence that ethnic food is having on our access to great new flavors to build into our recipe repertoire. Another is how health and wellness continues to evolve across categories.

PF: How could food and beverage manufacturers better work with you in the future? 

John Li: It starts with being connected as much as possible with the leading-edge consumers and innovators that are driving the behavioral eating trends and having that heavily influence your new product development strategy. 

In the past, it was following the independent fine dining chefs. Today, with everyone being so connected, the way we eat is driven as much by the Maxwell Street Market or the modern cuisine at Alinea or the eating advice of food author Michael Pollan.

2016 FABI AWARD WINNERS (excludes non-food products)

Company: Atalanta Corporation
Product: L’Estornell Smoked Oil
Description: This olive oil is the perfect marriage of the native extra virgin olive oil with cold smoke. Delicate processing creates a beautiful balance between the Arbequina olive oil’s classic fruit flavor profile with hints of subtle smokiness.

Company: Atalanta Corporation
Product: Peruvian Sauces
Description: These incomparable sauces bring authentic Peruvian flavors to adventurous palates looking for exciting new global flavors. These sauces deliver bold, diverse flavor profiles ranging from spicy and creamy to piquant and fresh; and they add depth in bases, sauces, and as a finisher.

Company: Australis Aquaculture, LLC
Product: Skin-On Barramundi
Description: Australis offers a pre-scored, 6oz skin-on barramundi that is consistently priced, convenient and sustainable. Each thoughtfully raised, hand-trimmed center cut portion is flash frozen within hours of harvest and individually vacuum-packed for the best quality.

Company: Bai Brands
Product: Bai Bubbles
Description:  Bai Bubbles are sparkling, fruit-flavored beverages infused with the antioxidants from coffeefruit. With only 1g of sugar, five calories, and no artificial sweeteners, Bai Bubbles serves up a low calorie beverage boasting bold fruit flavor without any unwanted sweeteners.

Company: Boulart Inc.
Product: Ciabatta Bites
Description: Perfectly portioned Ciabatta Bites are non-GMO Project Verified and do not contain additives, preservatives, or added sugar, making them a perfect snack on their own or for dipping. They’re made with pure ingredients and are available in a variety of flavors.

Company: Brands of Britain, LLC
Product: Fever-Tree Naturally Light Ginger Beer
Description: This naturally brewed reduced calorie ginger beer uses natural fruit sugars and three types of ginger. It maintains the distinctive ginger character of Fever-Tree Ginger Beer with 42% fewer calories, making it a perfect mixer for cocktails or a refreshing soft drink on its own.

Company: Bulsara Foods
Product: Tandoori Wet Rub Marinade
Description: This is the world’s first one-step,15-minute tandoori marinade made for foodservice. Add authentic Indian flavor to menu items ranging from appetizers to entrees and everything in between. This product slashes marinating time to just 15 minutes and results in complex, fully flavored food.

Company: Corto Olive Company
Product: La Padella Cooking Oil
Description: La Padella is precision-blended cooking oil specifically made for high performance and high heat sautéing or pan frying where fresh olive flavor is wanted. It provides a higher smoke point and its robust olive flavor adds an authentic essence to dishes.

Company: Earnest Eats
Product: Hot & Fit Superfood 15lb Bulk Hot Cereal
Description: The first hot cereal made with non-GMO ancient grains–quinoa, oats, amaranth–for more protein, fiber, and texture than traditional oats. Unsweetened and easily customizable, it cooks in fewer than five minutes. The cereal comes pre-blended with superfood nuts, seeds and dried fruits.

Company: FGF Brands
Product: Stonefire Naan Dippers
Description: Stonefire Naan Dippers are the only bite-size naan made with buttermilk and ghee baked in a Tandoor oven. These authentic naan are a canvas for a chef’s creativity and allow operators to serve up a twist on an old favorite, or add a unique shareable appetizer or dessert to their menu.

Company:  Flavors of Lonato del Garda, LLC
Product: Apple AMEA Balsamic Vinegar
Description: Apple AMEA Balsamic Vinegar has a classification of Amea Egocalo XX and is a highly complex apple vinegar aged traditionally in small wooden barrels for long periods of time to develop a rich, velvety flavor. Its perfect balance of sweet and sour notes paired with a distinct but smooth apple flavor makes this vinegar a palate pleaser.

Company: G.S. Gelato
Product: Guava Sorbetto
Description: Guava Sorbetto, made from pure guava fruit imported from Brazil, fits into many alternative diets and comes ready to serve. It’s naturally free from fat, dairy, gluten, and any allergen or artificial flavor. Use as a stand-alone dessert or as a refreshing addition to any drink or dessert.

Company: Gourmet Garden
Product: Lightly Dried Herbs & Spices
Description: Gourmet Garden Lightly Dried Herbs & Spices are dried using a patented lightly dried process that allows them to last for two weeks after opening. They completely refresh in cooking, showcasing the flavor, appearance, and aroma of fresh herbs. This reduces food waste and labor.

Company: Hail Merry LLC
Product: Salted Brownie Merry Bites
Description: Salted Brownie Merry Bites appeals to all consumers, including gluten-free, dairy-free, and Paleo folks. Tapping into trends of eating plant-based fats, these rich, chewy dark chocolate treats are made with organic virgin coconut oil and dehydrated instead of baked.

Company: Hollandia Produce
Product: Grower Pete’s Organic Living Baby Butter Lettuce
Description: Organic, nutritious, versatile, and sweet, this “perfect portion” unique 5oz. head of lettuce is a perfect wash-and-serve option. This hydroponically greenhouse-grown variety delivers unmatched uniformity as well as a longer shelf life thanks to its attached roots.

Company: Kiki’s Gluten Free Foods, LLC
Product: Individual Quick Bake GF Deep Dish Pizza
Description: Kiki’s offers the first commercially-available premium quality frozen gluten-free individual size deep dish pizza. These artisan-quality pizzas are packaged in oven-able packaging to eliminate cross-contamination and its buttery crust offers a light, yet satisfying texture that’s super craveable.

Company: Manicaretti Italian Food Importers
Product: 90’’ Rapida Spaghetti, Rustichella d’Abruzzo
Description: 90’’ Rapida Spaghetti from Rustichella d’Abruzzo cooks to a perfectly al dente texture in just 90 seconds. Made with excellent semolina and dried using a slow, controlled process, this artisan-quality pasta has wonderful texture and flavor that surpasses any pre-cooked pasta.

Company: Natalie’s Orchid Island Juice Company
Product: Squeezed Fresh Tomato Juice
Description: There’s only one ingredient in this juice: fresh tomatoes. Natalie’s Squeezed Fresh Tomato Juice is minimally processed to retain the quality and nutrition of the fruit in its natural state. Unlike most tomato juices, Natalie’s is squeezed fresh and has no added sodium, no preservatives, no GMOs, no concentrates, and no flavor packs.

Company: Nutricopia Inc.
Product: Brio Ice Cream
Description: Brio is a revolutionary ice cream packed with antioxidants, protein, probiotics, micronutrients, and calcium. This rich and creamy nutritional powerhouse is low glycemic, non-GMO, r-BST-free, made with organic milk from pasture-raised cows, and has half the fat and 20% fewer calories than premium brands. Brio is available in six flavors.

Company: OM Spirits
Product: OM “Organic Mixology” Liqueurs
Description: Organic Mixology is a line of certified organic, socially-conscious liqueurs designed by famed mixologist and cocktail book author Natalie Bovis. These liqueurs, available in four on-trend flavors, drastically cut down on signature cocktail prep time, thereby increasing turnover and simplifying the process of mixology in a bar program.

Company: PepsiCo Foodservice
Product: Stubborn Soda
Description: Stubborn Soda was developed to deliver an elevated soda experience that uses the best ingredients. Unexpected pairings like Wild Black Cherry with Tarragon and, Orange Hibiscus, and Lemon Berry Acai take traditional soft drink flavors to the next level, while Fair Trade Certified cane sugar and natural flavors highlight a commitment to providing the high quality ingredients.

Company: Prince Waffles
Product: Sweet Filled Authentic Belgian Waffles
Description: This authentic Belgian pastry has a crispy outside with very subtly flavored, yet dense and satisfying fillings like real fruit, custard, or Belgian chocolate. It’s a versatile treat that can be served for breakfast, as a snack, or be the highlight of a dessert menu.

Company: Sevillo Fine Foods
Product: Fire Roasted Artichoke Hearts
Description: Sevillo Fire Roasted Artichoke Hearts are lightly dipped in balsamic vinegar, fire roasted to intensify their natural flavor, and marinated in fresh garlic and herbs. Cut into easy-to-serve quarters and quick-frozen for freshness, they save chefs hours of prep and cook time.

Company: Sevillo Fine Foods
Product: Slow Roasted Cherry Tomatoes
Description: Sevillo offers a delicious, year-round alternative to fresh and sun-dried tomatoes. Sevillo Slow Roasted Cherry Tomatoes are roasted to perfection in proprietary ovens to intensify their natural sweetness. They’re marinated in a simple recipe of the finest oil, oregano, garlic and salt, and quick-frozen for freshness.

Company:  Sevillo Fine Foods
Product: Slow Roasted Red Tomatoes
Description: Sevillo Slow Roasted Tomatoes, a delicious year-round alternative to fresh and sun-dried varieties, are vine-ripened to perfection and roasted in our proprietary ovens to intensify their natural sweetness. Once marinated in the finest oil, oregano, garlic and salt, they’re quick-frozen for freshness.

Company: Wagshal’s
Product: USDA Prime Smoked Beef Brisket
Description: Wagshal’s, a Washington, DC, institution for more than 90 years, selects only the best USDA Prime whole briskets for curing and smoking. It’s a 50+ day process resulting in tender meat reminiscent of Montreal-style smoked brisket. It comes as ready-to-serve whole brisket and portion-controlled packages.


Originally appeared in the August, 2016 issue of Prepared Foods as Menu Solutions.