A summary of the Food and Drink Expo 2014

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From March 24-26, the Birmingham NEC threw open its doors to the much-anticipated Food and Drink Expo 2014, welcoming over 700 exhibitors and thousands of visitors. Organised by the publishers of The Grocer magazine, the expo is widely recognised as *the* food and drinks trade event, providing a great route to market for the entire industry – from producers right through to packagers.

This edition of the bi-annual event promised ‘innovation, inspiration and theatre’, with a particular focus on regionality and provenance. More to the point, the expo gave attendant buyers and decision-makers the chance to ‘touch, taste and experience’ brand new products before anyone else.

Here’s a quick summary of the event:

New products and innovations

From Swiss-style meringue bites to cheesecake in jam jars, an actual smorgasbord of delights was on display, tantalising taste buds across the full three days. Some were courtesy of familiar household names, like German biscuit-maker Bahlsen, while others originated from hitherto unknown specialist artisan brands, but both options were equally delightful discoveries.

Among the new products, reports The Grocer, were several cocktail-flavoured goodies including Man Food’s adult jams, Hawkshead’s cocktail condiments and gourmet popcorn from Joe & Seph in mojito, cosmopolitan and margarita flavours.

One of the highlights of the expo was the crowning of the ‘Great New Idea’ title. This year, the illustrious accolade went to No.G, a range of chilled sweet and savoury gluten-free pastries from Nottingham’s Riverside Bakery. The award is particularly desirable as it’s voted for by visitors on the day and via Twitter. Fans reportedly hailed the firm’s “ethos in widening the choice for coeliacs”, said bakery account manager, Sam Benjamin.

Expert advice

It wasn’t just a case of visiting stands and chatting to producers, the expo also provided some informative elements. At the ‘Brainfood Factory’ in the live events arena, ticket-holders could watch demonstrations and listen to insightful seminars which covered market trends and other useful information. There were talks on pricing, building a brand, responsibilities for healthy eating and food waste – all hot topics in the industry right now.

Also in the arena was the Farm Shop and Deli Live, described as the chance to ‘interact, learn, taste and debate all the latest innovations in the speciality food and drink sector’. This offered business advice and master-classes to those in the fine foods market.

Some of the advice was dispensed by familiar faces too, with appearances from Masterchef winner, Phil Vickery and Radio 2 food broadcaster, Nigel Barden. Eagle-eyed visitors might also have spotted Levi Roots, he of Reggae Reggae Sauce fame, and food writer Tom Parker-Bowles, who was showcasing his British pork crackling brand, Mr Trotter.

Foodex 2014

Co-located within the expo was Foodex, billed as ‘the UK show for food and drink processing, packaging and logistics industries’. Concentrating on supply chain strategies and sustainability, the event provided a mixture of general seminars and specific master-classes with demonstrations by Tom and Henry Baker, otherwise known as Channel 4’s The Fabulous Baker Brothers.

Foodex allowed manufacturers to launch new machinery and let businesses see the equipment working, ask questions and discover solutions that they may not have thought about previously.

Visitors said via the Foodex website how they appreciated being able to source hard-to-find, specific equipment and talk to suppliers in person, enabling them to understand products far better than they might if reading about them on the web. Others hailed the opportunity to establish contacts who could help expand their enterprise, many claiming to have discovered suppliers they might otherwise not have found.

One visitor called the show “a must” for those already established in or trying to get into the market, saying the show was “a completely brilliant way of advertising…and promoting your business”.

Regional goodies

For the first time in the show’s 20 year history, visitors could peruse specialities from around the country in the dedicated Regional Quarter. With delegations from the Welsh Assembly Government, Heart of England Fine Foods and Taste Cork, among others, it was possible to find specific local delicacies – potentially with a view to agreeing a supply deal.

Those exhibiting at the Welsh stand told meatinfo.co.uk that the event was a huge success – offering them a great opportunity to showcase their wares. John Langford, of the Welsh Sausage Company told the publication that the show was “the best one I’ve been to”, a sentiment shared by Emily Davies of first-timers Capestone Organic Poultry.  She said that despite not knowing what to expect, the show had given them a “great identity”.

That’s not to say that there weren’t any international brands competing for a slice of the British market. Belgian firm Bekaert was out in force asking people to sample its Biscuit Butter. Exposure at the show has probably helped its bid to be on British shelves by the end of the year.

Prize winners

Such expos are a great opportunity for some far-reaching exposure and nothing is more opportune than winning a prize. In addition to the Great New Product title, the food show also awarded more specific trophies, such as the prestigious ‘Burger of the Year 2014’. This award went to Enniskillen-based O’Doherty’s Fine Meats for its lamb and anchovy burger.

Speaking to meatinfo.co.uk, owner and manager Pat O’Doherty said: “This is a tremendous award for us because it is the industry’s recognition of the quality, taste and innovation of our unique lamb and anchovy burger.”

Meanwhile over at Foodex, ingredient manufacturer and distributor British Bakels was awarded the title of British Bounce Back champion, in recognition of its achievements despite the recession. According to foodmanufacture.co.uk, judges were impressed by the company’s investment in technology and commitment to sustainable production.

Reaction from the exhibitors – how it went

Social media is chocker with positive comments from exhausted but very happy exhibitors after the event closed. The posts encapsulate the expo’s friendly atmosphere, with many celebrating the renewal of old partnerships and the creation of valuable new ones.

More than that, however, the event was considered an important channel for those wishing to get into new markets, like Denise Thomas of Sin (Gluten-Free Goodies). Though she had exhibited at other shows, Denise asserted that this “was definitely one of the better ones”.

Sin – which is Spanish for ‘without’ – gained great exposure during the show, attracting interest from the hospitality and airline industries, among others. One visitor, upon tasting her cakes asked Denise whether any ‘with gluten’ alternatives were available, indicating an appetite for expansion into the traditional baked goods market.

In all, Denise said that the show went “extremely well…[it] was one of the best shows I’ve done.” Would she exhibit at the Food and Drink Expo again? “Without a doubt I’d do it again,” she said.

The next Food and Drink Expo (incorporating Foodex) takes place in April 18-20 2016.

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