There are a few major industry food shows every year. This last week has seen ‘The Speciality and Fine Food Show’ at London’s Olympia. And a very good show it was too. It comes to London every second year, alternating with Birmingham. It used to be that producers would wait patiently for the shows to come around so that they could launch new products, or try out new things on their audience. The shows are for professionals and they would be the place to see all of the top buyers from the best and biggest shops. The Harrods buyers would try to hide their visitor badges, or whisper to the traders to try and avoid anyone knowing who they were. For a long time they would try to gain ‘exclusivity’ on a new product so that nobody else could sell it. The supermarket buyers would be seen following around a buyer from a top store to see what was going to be fashionable or on trend in the coming season. Supermarket buyers have never wasted much time on being inventive or market leaders.
The shows were fun. The producers would entertain existing customers with tasty samples and, maybe, a small beer or glass of wine. They would court new business by offering even more tasty samples and bigger portions of beer or wine. As a buyer in the industry we would meet all of our contacts, colleagues, old and present, friends who had maybe moved to pastures new and we would while away the time catching up and sharing information. In the late nineties and early noughties the shows changed. Transport links improved and producers were offering their wares around Britain faster, sometimes even before they were ready for market. Food scares and competition made money a bit more scarce and entertainment took a back seat. Venues in London became very expensive and many producers were simply priced out of coming. There have been other issues along the way but none that couldn’t be ironed out. As shown this week at Olympia.
This show was a bit of a throw back. Some of the razzmatazz was back. The halls were full (many more producers than recent years) and there was a buoyancy about the place. I visited on the last day of three so, unfortunately, many of my friends would have visited sooner, but I still bumped into a few and I was delighted to see one of my finest suppliers, Mr Piers Adamson, at his last show before he takes a graceful bow and slips away from mainstream food supply. Piers’ is one of those ebullient, larger than life characters who bring an unfettered positivity to the food industry. He’s far too young to retire, but he will be missed following his decision to step back from the main stream I went with Freddie, from Meat N16, and Gessica, from Meat NW5. We spent a long time looking at new ideas for the coming autumn and winter months. Gessica’s bag was so full of samples that poor Freddie was given it to carry. We looked at some delicious Charcuterie, I met a real old school bacon producer who is also making proper Black Pudding, we tasted our way through a whole manner of sauces and condiments and there was an abundance of cheese. Our existing French supplier, Patrick, took me aside to tell me in a very clandestine fashion about a cooked Ham that he wants to bring to Britain (he told me not to tell Agata – not sure why?) and, today, I ate the most delicious Cornish Pasty for lunch that I had snaffled during our visit. It’s too early to say which of our finds will make the shelves in the coming weeks. I advise our customers to keep their eyes open.
The real winners this week were the producers and the show organisers. They put on a very good show, and reminded me how lucky we are to have such a great food industry in Britain.