Heard In The Aisles At NRA

We are still attending the National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago as we write this. Most exhibitors we’ve spoken with said attendance at the show has been somewhat slower than last year, which typically happens at NRA in a NAFEM Show year. But most also said the quality of attendee has been high, with more chain and international visitors than they expected.

But our main topic of discussion with manufacturers has been around a question: Are we seeing a slowing of growth in E&S sales since the beginning of the year? A number of suppliers noted that while sales were lackluster the first three months, the slowing has accelerated in April and so far in May. What is most surprising is that a number of these manufacturers are more spec-market oriented. They say customers just appear hesitant to pull the trigger on pending projects.

We do now have hard numbers on the first quarter from both the publicly reporting E&S companies and the MAFSI Barometer. And they do register a slowdown in the rate of growth from the fourth quarter, but not a dramatic change from the quarterly growth rates of 2016. (See following story.)

But the macroeconomic factors still seem to favor restaurant and commercial foodservice growth. Several more chain-oriented suppliers told us that while the big restaurant chains have been cautious in their capital spending for more than a year, they are beginning to see signs of life. And on the spec side, quotation and consultant activity remains definitively positive according to MAFSI reps. So we will just have to wait a couple more months to see if the slowdown in E&S market growth is a blip or a trend.

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