NRF’s New Foodservice Innovation Zone Opened My Eyes – and Blew My Mind

By: Jim Roddy, President & CEO at the RSPA

One of the first lessons I was taught as a young IT writer 25 years ago centered on a concept called the “fog index.” The higher the fog index, the less clear your writing is to your audience. My brain deduced that to “fog bad, clear good.”

That fog has been mighty thick (and, hence, mighty bad) as our community has collectively attempted to understand technology’s innovation path. We’ve had glimpses of clarity here and there, but seeing the entire IT landscape in a retail/restaurant setting has been impossible.

Until now.

The RSPA has been granted early access by the NRF (National Retail Federation) to plans for its new Foodservice Innovation Zone that will be showcased Jan. 14-16 at NRF 2024: Retail’s Big Show in New York City – and I’m blown away based on what I’ve seen.

Before I describe it, feast your eyes on the Foodservice Innovation Zone floor plan. (This may be the only time I recommend you momentarily stop reading one of my blog posts, so take advantage of it while you can.)

Here’s how the NRF explains its Foodservice Innovation Zone: Guests will experience activations showing the most future forward tech available through demos created with numerous partners coming together and integrating their tech as they would in a real use scenario.

Walk the curated path through the convenience store, restaurant (Center of the Plate), and drive-thru experience of tomorrow. See firsthand innovation in fresh food and creative beverage vending machines, robotics, delivery, and more. This story expands beyond the front of the house and dives into connected devices, smart dining, customer and store analytics, and security of data.

The zone will feature:

  • Interactive foodservice tech of tomorrow demonstrations
  • 50+ food tech-focused booths
  • A food tech stage to hear from food tech leaders and innovators
  • Celebrity chef appearances
  • Six collaborative specialty areas featuring the technologies and innovations necessary to provide a future-forward customer-centric restaurant and retail foodservice experience

For those of us earnestly trying to understand innovation in the retail and restaurant verticals, we’ve had to piece together our tech roadmap based on breadcrumbs from a variety of sources. To a degree, it’s been like describing to an alien who’s never experienced liquid before that water is wet. NRF has essentially constructed and filled an Olympic-sized swimming pool with water and invited us all to jump in.

Nearly 25 years of experience in the retail IT channel has taught me the fastest and most effective way to learn is through immersion. There’s no substitute for attending a multi-day in-person show to grasp trends and nuances that will accelerate understanding where your business fits best.

NRF has taken that principle to a different level, and I can’t wait to experience it myself – and I hope you will see it as well. The Foodservice Innovation Zone has already secured seven major sponsors and is supported by association partners the IFBTA (International Food and Beverage Technology Association) and the RSPA. If you are interested in integrating your technology or want to exhibit in the Foodservice Innovation Zone, email the NRF’s Tami Sakell at

Mid-January weather in New York can be unpredictable with the potential for wind, snow, cold, and rain. If you want to escape the elements, head inside to the NRF’s Foodservice Innovation Zone where the forecast is clear with a 0% chance of fog.

Don’t miss the retail IT channel’s #1 trade show, education conference, and networking event July 30-Aug. 1 in Orlando! Visit the RetailNOW 2023 website and register today.

Jim Roddy is the President and CEO of the Retail Solutions Providers Association (RSPA). He has been active in the retail IT channel since 1998, including 11 years as the President of Business Solutions Magazine, six years as an RSPA board member, one term as RSPA Chairman of the Board, and several years as a business coach for VARs, ISVs, and MSPs. Jim has been recognized as one of the world’s Top Retail Influencers by RETHINK Retail, a Leading CannaTech Influencer by The CannaTech Group, and is regularly requested to speak at industry conferences on SMB best practices. He is author of two books – The Walk-On Method To Career & Business Success and Hire Like You Just Beat Cancer – and is host of the award-winning RSPA Trusted Advisor podcast. For more information, contact