As director of procurement for Red Lobster, Jennifer Keith knows that good supplier relationships are critical to a restaurant’s success. That’s why the casual seafood chain’s procurement team makes it a priority to attend the annual NRA Show in Chicago.
“NRA Show serves as a forum to meet with our current suppliers, address specific needs, and identify opportunities for future business initiatives,” Keith says. “The show also highlights industry innovations, so it serves as an opportunity to learn about upcoming trends impacting our industry.”
Not only does Keith use the Show to strengthen relationships with the brand’s existing suppliers, but she also says the Show provides a valuable chance to network and build new relationships.
Many suppliers use the Show to share innovations or upcoming trends. “Whether it’s on the expo floor or a personalized presentation, suppliers take the time to share innovations or business solutions,” Keith says.
The benefit Red Lobster gets from the Show changes every year because the brand’s goals change. As a result, the team focuses its visits on the initiatives that are most important to the brand at the time, along with some crucial themes that are always a priority, such as flavors, trends, innovations, and labor and waste reduction.
“NRA Show offers a view into emerging trends and innovations that can benefit businesses and offers the opportunity for leaders to hear directly from one another,” Keith says. “It also allows for relationship building with critical stakeholders.”
The educational component of NRA Show is another benefit to the Red Lobster team. Keith uses the event to source new ideas that could be included in the brand’s strategy. “Given the size and breadth of NRA Show, there is always something new to learn that can be applied to our operations,” she says.
Because so many key segments of the industry are represented, Keith thinks the Show is an efficient way to learn about trends and build relationships at the same time. “By having specific goals and objectives in mind, I’m able to have a pre-determined schedule prepared in advance so I can maximize my time on-site.”
Keith says it’s important for first-time visitors to know what they want to get from the experience so that they can schedule their meetings in advance. “Based on my experience, I’d also note two things for new attendees: Go prepared to learn and wear comfortable shoes.”
For new brands and established brands like Red Lobster, NRA Show provides ample opportunities for industry leaders to meet one another, see new trends and technologies, and to learn. “Staying abreast of the latest industry innovation and trends is critical to adding value to the success of the business,” Keith says. “We feel that ‘You don’t know if you don’t go.’”