Speciality & Fine Food Fair 2018: Highlights, Experiences and Visitor Insights

They came, they saw, they were delighted. Crowds of top-end retailers, buyers, chefs and business owners flocked to Olympia London to tap into a world of artisan food and drink innovation and trends at Speciality & Fine Food Fair 2018.

An industry survey on the speciality food and drink market, commissioned by the team behind the Fair – now in its 19th year – revealed that 64% of independent retailers, buyers and caterers visit trade fairs to seek out new artisan food and drink produce, and that certainly seemed to be the case this year with a noticeable increase in visitor numbers compared to 2017.

Over three glorious days of new launches, new insights and new producers, the Fair hosted 10,005 industry attendees – including host of The Apprentice, Lord Sugar – and more than 700 passionate producers of speciality delights, from luxury chocolate to condiments with unique ingredients and flavours, to premium, alcoholic tipples.

 

Ethical Producers and Caring Commerce

One key trend that stood out at the Fair was the number of producers not only putting their heart and soul into creating quality food and drink, but also being committed to giving back to the community in some form.

This trend is very much in step with consumers opting to align themselves to brands that are transparent and ethical. This isn’t anything new, but for more speciality producers this is clearly an important area that also helps them stand out against the bigger, mainstream brands that don’t have the same passion, agility and flexibility as artisan brands.

Examples include premium non-alcoholic spirit alternative Berkshire Blend, which donates 5% of the profits to Mind, the charity that supports better mental health, while The Two Farmers is the only UK crisp company to use compostable packaging.

The trend continues with the eco-friendly team behind nutrient-dense chocolate bar Nu+cao, which has pledged to plant a tree in Madagascar for every chocolate bar it sells. 200,000 trees have been planted so far this year, with the aim of hitting the 1 million mark by December. What’s more, the brand introduced a new protein powder at the Fair, called nu+pro, which is vegan and packaged in sustainable and plastic-free material. This launch joins two new chocolate bar flavours: macadamia chai and cashew vanilla.

Meanwhile, confectionery producer Mydorable launched a range of new lollypops in tins, made to look like old fashioned school pencil cases. This ties in with the brand donating half its sales proceeds to schools in Ethiopia. The company also brought its intriguing pebble chocolates to the Fair – they’re made in France and currently sold at select department stores and farm shops across the UK.

 

Innovation

The Discovery Zone

“Normally I go to the big fairs and the problem with these is that you always find the same exhibitors, same people, same products, but what’s interesting at Speciality & Fine Food Fair is that you find new stuff.” – Rita Samaha, DMD & More

“The show is so full of great products!” – Kelly Molloy, grocery buyer for Harvey Nichols

Featuring 200 exciting new producers – all trading in the UK for fewer than 36 months, The Discovery Zone provided the perfect opportunity for buyers and retailers to see, touch and taste the next big thing in speciality food and drink.

Moveena Nutrition launched its enticing vegan-friendly and sugar-free turmeric fudge, which is just one of the many flavours in the brand’s unique portfolio of ingredient combinations. The Painted Peacock, launched a classic and vegan range of luxury chocolates, including a tahini and toasted black sesame variant which caught the attention of chefs and caterers walking past the stand.

Producer Fruit Pig Butchers introduced itself as the only fresh blood, black pudding producer in the UK, while Growers Garden showcased its brand-new broccoli crisps. Claiming a world-first, the crisps are made with fresh broccoli and come in ‘naked’, cheese, chilli and sour cream and chive flavours. The brand launches in Ocado later this year.

Another new producer making its debut in the Discovery Zone was Skinny Cook with its eye-catching Apple Cider Vinegar. Made from 100% whole apples, it is vegan and suitable for diabetics and coeliacs and comes in single serve sachets.

 

The Fresh Discovery Awards

The Fresh Discovery Awards highlighted the very best innovations in the artisan food and drink sector with finalists for the Overall Winner Award voted for by a panel of judges, including chef and ambassador for the Fair, Steve Walpole, and Charlie Turnbull, founder of DeliShops. The People’s Choice Award was chosen by the Fair’s attendees; buyers, retailers and owners who came along to the feature to vote on the shortlisted products.​

Single Variety Co picked up the Overall Winner accolade for its seasonal Lemon Drop Chilli Jam, which won for its outstanding fresh and citrusy hot flavour, using lemon drop chillies for heat and a higher fruit and lower sugar content than traditional jams.

The People’s Choice Award went to Picualia for its Pure Extra Virgin Olive Oil, which contains three times more antioxidants than other olive oils on the market. Picualia also achieved honourable mention for its Pure Extra Virgin Olive Oil in the Overall Winner category.

 

New features

The Drinks Cabinet

The Drinks Cabinet, in partnership with Fentimans, was a brand new feature for Speciality & Fine Food 2018, highlighting the latest trends in beer, wine and spirits, plus the growing trend for non-alcoholic beverages.

Just some of the innovation in The Drinks Cabinet included Red Pepper, an Italian craft beer, which pairs its beers with tomato sauces, truffle butter, oil and cream for fans of the Mediterranean diet. It’s also gluten free and comes in seven different ABV varieties to suit every taste.

Gordon Castle brought its botanical gin and its latest launch, Raspberry Gin liquor, to wow retailers and buyers at the Fair, highlighting its idyllic location at Gordon Castle in Scotland where the team has eight acres of farming land to grow ingredients.

 

Start-Up Spotlight

Yet another fresh feature for the Fair this year was Start-Up Spotlight, hosted by Bristol-based philanthropic project The Seed Fund. The sessions put the limelight on an intrepid group of entrepreneurs who took to the Food for Thought Stage to pitch their new business ideas to a panel of expert food and drink judges. Three start-up owners pitched each day during the event, facing the likes of Renee Elliott, founder of Planet Organic, Mark Wiltshire, director of leading speciality distributor Diverse Fine Foods and Rude Health’s co-founder Camilla Barnard.

On the last day of the Fair, Norty Puds, a free from and vegan pudding pot producer was crowned the overall winner. Norty Puds founder Elspeth Humm, said: “I am delighted to have won the Start-Up Spotlight crown for 2018 and feel really empowered by the whole experience. It’s great to have an industry event like Speciality & Fine Food Fair, which wholeheartedly supports entrepreneurs and brands starting out like myself, giving us the opportunity to get in front of the people that really matter.”

Insights

The 2018 Speciality Market Report

This year for the first time, the team behind the Fair commissioned bespoke research into the artisan food and drink sector in the UK, presenting the compelling results in a free report for Fair producers and visitors. It revealed fascinating insights, including the fact that more than half (53%) of independent retailers and caterers do not currently sell online, and 35% of those saying they have no plans to make the shift to digital trade. In addition, the report looked into diversification and how independent retailers and operators are making this work for them, providing valuable tips and advice for businesses to action themselves.

Over at the Food for Thought stage, a panel of experts including Partridges’ managing director John Shepherd and Fair ambassadors Jeremy Bowen of JB Food Solutions and corporate sales manager at Paxton & Whitfield, and Adrian Beale, co-founder and marketing director at Buckley & Beale, discussed the findings. The audience was treated to nuggets of advice, including Jeremy advising retailers to get their offer right before launching into e-commerce and Adrian highlighting the importance of market research in asking customers if they would actually buy a product before stocking it. The full report is now available to download from the website.

 

Keeping up with the innovation

Although the 2018 Fair has now finished, retailers and buyers can keep up with the latest industry trends and insights by following the Fair on social media and visiting the website for more details on what the 2019 event holds in store: www.specialityandfinefoodfairs.co.uk Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn