All's free at the food fair!11 April 2017
Gluten-free, dairy-free, meat-free, fat-free, preservative-free – it wasn’t fun-free though; with a hefty amount of free samples, we were in our element!
The International Food & Drink Expo (IFE) 2017 took to the stage at the ExCel London in March to showcase what’s hot in the world of cuisine, snacking, desserts, grocery, alcohol – everything you could wish for under one roof, a foodie’s heaven. Considered the UK’s largest food and drink event, the biennial trade show had two years to whet visitors’ appetites, and the crowds flocked, salivating at the door.
The food trend landscape has been dominated by the gluten-free phenomenon for a while now, as well as fat-free and dairy-free. While some of these feed into eating regimes due to a person’s dietary requirements, it’s well known that many people opt for these food choices as part of a wider effort towards a healthier – for some, ‘cleaner’ – lifestyle.
What was interesting to see at the show was that in amongst the cries of ‘baked, not fried!’, ‘100% organic!’, ‘perfect for flexitarians!’ and ‘you can’t tell there’s no milk in this ice cream!”, there was still a stronghold of mainstream items that everyone knows and (even if secretly) loves. For example, sausage rolls – made with full fat pastry (as fat, we’re now told, is good for you) and 90% meat content – luxury ice cream (whole milk and double cream, flavoured further with mounds of chocolate goodness, peanut butter and even Prosecco) and a range of tonics and mixers (ethically and locally produced, of course).
The expo highlighted that, above all, everything was about taste. Popcorn, leading the lighter snacks contingent, was decorated in a large array of flavours, both sweet and savoury; chocolate (fair trade, ethical and even vegan options, no less) is also riding the wave of experimentation – lavender, aromatic fennel and sea salt & lime flavours, to name a few; and the simple sunflower seed and pumpkin seed – roasted and dressed to the nines in chilli, honey and chocolate. The offerings showed that if you’re going to eat clean, do it well; if you’re going to indulge, indulge properly.
However, being presented with so many different brands, product positionings and dietary messages can generate more confusion, with consumers feeling betwixt and between, not knowing which product, brand or benefit message to opt for. Brands themselves also need to ensure that they know which market they are targeting and, above all, understand the audience. Many companies at IFE appeared to try and tick every box, shouting about a vast number of on-pack positionings. Surely some of these will be lost on consumers – brands need to find their niche and play to their strengths. How many food or drink products offer all the ‘free’s, yet still manage to absolutely nail the flavour?
Of course, each of these trends or ways of life has its place and we’re so lucky to have access to such a breadth of choice to cater to our varied tastes. Yet, with such a huge range of brands and products fighting for their place centre stage, perhaps they’d do well to forgo trying to be a jack of all positionings, and focus on disrupting their key market to become a master of it.