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Sector Focus: Food and Drink

by EN

EN sinks its teeth into the food and beverage industry and some of its events.

The UK food sector employs around 3.5m people and estimated to be worth around £113bn. The markets are broken down into Agriculture and Fishing (£9.2bn), Food and Drink Manufacturing (£29.5bn), Food and Drink Wholesaling (£12.3bn), Food and Drink Retailing (£29.4bn) and Non-residential catering (32.7bn). 

In 2018, there were approximately 6,700 micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the food and drink sector, with a turnover of around £18bn and with 120,000 employees. In the food sector (excluding beverages), SMEs accounted for 97 per cent of businesses, 28 per cent of overall employment and 19 per cent of turnover.  

There’s a handful of key events in the food sector including the International Food and Drink Event (IFE), Food and Drink Expo, Lunch!, Casual Dining, Natural & Organic Products Europe and Street Food Live, attracting buyers from across supermarkets, hospitality, non-residential catering and restaurants.

Diversified Communications UK, MD, Carsten Holm, who’s events include Natural & Organic Products Europe, Casual Dining and Lunch!, said: “We have been incredibly lucky to get involved in a number of niche sectors, which have today become mainstream.  For instance, lunch!, which many thought was a small niche when we launched 12 years ago, has become the must attend event for the £20 billion plus food to go sector, with nearly 450 exhibitors and over 7,000 trade buyers, and Casual Dining is the most important event for the multi-site restaurants, pubs, bars, and food service, where low price, quality and differentiation are the defining factors.

“In many ways, the biggest surprise has been Natural & Organic Products Europe, which has run for 23 years, and was launched as a niche show aimed at the health food business.  The ‘big buyers’ from supermarkets and other mainstream retail outlets, wouldn’t come near it and many looked at it as a show run for hippies, by hippies.  But how times have changed.  Today, natural, organic, healthy, free-from, vegan, ethical, fair-trade and sustainable, is what drives innovation and the retail debate, so from being perceived as an irrelevant niche show, Natural & Organic Products Europe has become the place where big buyers come to see the latest innovation and to understand what is happening in the market.

“We now run the show in four countries and to give you an example of how important the sector is, the CEO of COOP Denmark, told me that our Nordic Organic Food Fair is Malmo, is the single most important show they attend, not just to buy, but also to see trends.  Priorities have definitely changed, and we are very lucky to be involved in such dynamic and fast changing sectors”

Food and Drink is the UK’s biggest manufacturing sector in the country, larger than automotive and aerospace combined and there’s no sign of it slowing down.

However, as we enter a period of negotiation, it’s worth noting that the food sector employs around 106,000 EU workers, around a quarter of whom are employed in the food manufacturing sector. Internationally, the UK benefits from around £100bn in economic value each year and it’s growing, with sales expected to hit £197bn by the end of 2021 according to the Institute of Grocery Distribution. The UK is Ireland’s largest trading partner for food and drink. 37 per cent of its food and drink exports go to the UK (€4.6bn/£3.9bn). 

Alarmingly, the food and drink sector will need a further 140,000 new recruits by 2024 to feed an expected population of 70m people in the UK and meet market demands. Food costs are expected to rise during the period of trading uncertainty because the UK imports around 30 per cent of its food from the EU. If the UK is unable to reach a temporary trade agreement whilst the finer details of a deal are ironed out, tariffs on imported food will come into play, as well as non-tariff barriers at ports, creating a slow-down in movement of goods. The UK will be obliged under World Trade Organisation rules to impose average food import tariffs of 22 per cent and conduct product inspections leading to delays and shortening the shelf-life of products.

Event organisers could also see a temporary drop in the number of EU exhibitors until the final details of a trade agreement with Europe are complete. Smaller businesses selling more specialised or artisan food could be worst affected because the potential delay and impending tariffs may make deals with buyers harder to reach.

Food trends unwrapped 

Eating for your brain 

In the same way that we’ve seen a rise in claims of high protein in food products, brain health and mental performance improvements will make their way into mainstream food categories. We expect to see a rise in a range of products, from breakfast cereals to meat alternatives, that claim to strengthen mental health. After all, 20 per cent of our energy intake goes directly to the brain.

Vegan backlash 

The growing demand for healthy, sustainable and ethical food by vegans and vegetarians could find its way into the mainstream consumption. More and more consumers are asking more questions about their food and where it is from. We could see more retailers sell ingredients which permit a more natural, plant-based diet based around organic whole foods, making this more accessible to the masses.

Zero waste and innovative packaging 

Plastic-free and zero waste will continue to be a focus in 2020 with customers looking to leave as small a mark on the planet as possible. More consumers food free from packaging and there is expected to be a significant rise in refill packs and strong support for recycled packaging.

Cannabidiol (CBD)

CBD or Cannabidiol is the latest trendy ingredient to take the food world by storm. Products made with hemp-derived ingredients like hemp flour, seeds, oil and protein powder have been around for years and have set the scene for the rise of CBD. Europe is by far the largest hemp growing region after EU member states lifted the ban in the late 1990s. New product development using CBD includes categories like tea, honey, supplements and sweets.

Personalised nutrition (PN) 

There’s a strong move in the market towards personalised nutrition or people building food plans with specific dietary requirements. PN recognises that each one of us is different and therefore requires different products that support deficiencies or varying lifestyles.

Edible beauty 

One of the biggest trends in the natural health sector is edible beauty – dietary supplements, nutrition and foods for anti-aging, skin health, and beauty.  Market research predicts that in 2020 the ‘digestible beauty product’ market will reach £5.7bn (Global Industry Analysts Inc).

Fast(er) food 

Consumers want wholesome meals with minimal effort. Many people today feel time-poor. longer hours The average time people spend preparing dinner at home shrank from an hour in 1980 to 24 minutes today. These habits boost demand for high-quality convenient meals. Some businesses now sell gourmet freezer meals and vegan ready meals, others produce recipe boxes filled with all the necessary ingredients to cook at home.

Drinks Market Analysis

The drinks market is currently worth around £65.2bn in the UK, with alcohol and soft drinks industries being worth £49bn and £16.2bn, respectively.

The current drinks market is affected by a decrease in the amount of people drinking alcohol. UK consumption dropped from 12.6 litres of pure alcohol a year per adult in 1990 to 11.4 litres in 2017 – a decline of almost 10 per cent. It is predicted to fall even further by 2030, dipping to only 11 litres a year per adult.

As a result of this, there has been a rise in low and non-alocholic drinks (NOLOs) specifically designed to appeal to those who may want to drink socially, but without getting drunk.

This has also given rise to premium and craft soft drinks, not only as alternatives to alcohol, but also as mixers – meaning that whilst people may be drinking less, they are paying more to drink.

Whilst the market was affected by Brexit, there are some seeds of optimism, with those in the industry focusing on planning for the future. 

Bednall said the soft drinks market has a number of improvements to make: “The coffee/tea market is growing fast, but that’s not reflected in the sales of the more traditional food and beverage sectors – in restaurants, hotels, pubs – because they’ve failed to embrace the opportunity of people wanting decent soft drinks.”

As for the UK drinks events market, there are not many dedicated drinks events – Imbibe Live, an alcoholic drinks show and the Tea, Coffee and Soft Drinks Expo stand out. 

Drinks Trends uncorked


Millennials and Generation Z continue to influence the market, fuelling the turn away from drinking alcohol; the key trend for the UK drinks market is ‘NOLOs’, meaning there will be pubs, bars and restaurants that are completely booze-free, in addition to more high-end soft drinks.

Bottoms up

On the alcohol side, gin is continuing to be popular, whilst dark spirits (particularly Irish and American whiskey) as well as aperitifs and spritzes, are tipped to be the next big trend. Food and drink matching beyond wine extending into beer, cocktails and alcohol-free drinks is also growing in popularity.

Drinking for wellness

Other trends likely to appear within the drinks market include wellness drinks such as kombucha, vitamin-fortified drinks and CBD-infused beverages, as Generation Z and Millennials continue to the market in health-conscious ways.

Key Events and Organisers

1. International Food and Drink Event:

The International Food and Drink Event (IFE) is organised by Fresh Montgomery and brings together 1,350 food and drink manufacturers. The event has been going on for four decades, and has always aimed to showcase the latest advances in technology, trends, buying strategies and consumer demands to its attendees, whilst reflecting what those in the industry want. IFE also aims to create a space where food and drink buyers can ‘discover emerging trends and products, meet their peers, and witness relevant content’. 

The event will next be held at ExCeL London from 17-20 March 2020, and will be co-located with sister events Hotel Restaurant & Catering (HRC) and IFE Manufacturing Solutions. The joining of this shows is to ‘meet the ever-growing industry demand for solutions across the full food and drink supply chain’, and anticipates over 40,000 attendees.

2. Natural & Organic Products Europe:

11,000 visitors and around 650 exhibitors.  It includes Vegan World, the largest exhibition of vegan companies in the UK and The Natural Food Show.  It is also the UK’s leading event for CBD based products.  And it is the largest trade event for food nutrition in the UK, by some distance.  The event has run for 24 years and is on the 19th – 20th April, ExCeL.

3. Lunch!:

Lunch! is the leading event for the food-to-go sector, for companies like Pret, Café Nero, Starbucks, Supermarkets, Snack, etc.  It’s highly successful and considered the essential event for the sector.  Lunch! has won EN Trade Show of the year.  Around 450 exhibitors and 7,000 visitors. 24th – 25th September, ExCeL.

 4. Casual Dining:

Casual Dining is the leading show for the casual dining sector, which includes all chain restaurants, contract catering and pub groups for whom food is an important part of their offering.  It attracts all the key players from the industry and is considered one of he most successful food shows in the UK.  It also includes the Casual Dining Awards, attend by up to 500 decision makers. Around 250 exhibitors and 5,000 visitors. 25th – 26th March, ExCeL.

5. Imbibe Live and The Snack Show:

Organised by Reed Exhibitions, Imbibe Live is an annual event for anyone who sources, buys or serves drinks in the licensed on-trade, from sommeliers, buyers and managers to publicans and bartenders. The show has seen brands like Fever Tree launch and grow into household names through exhibiting there. Running concurrently is The Snack Show, which showcases snack innovation, launches new products and facilitates discussion on the latest trends in the snack food sector, as well as enabling visitors to meet with a range of suppliers and gain insights from experts leading the change in the snack sector. The shows are held at Olympia London, with the next edition on 29 June 2020.

6. European Coffee, Tea and Soft Drinks Expo:

The European Coffee, Tea and Soft Drinks Expo is currently in its third year as an exhibition, and is the only trade show devoted to the professional sales of soft beverages across the food service industry, from cafes, coffee shops and hotels, to restaurants, contract caterers, leisure outlets, those in the travel sector, pubs, bars and offices. The event was started when CEO John Bednall saw a gap in the market for a dedicated show, after seeing no or limited beverage options at other food and drink trade shows. Since starting, the show has grown by 30% each year, and now attracts 200 exhibitors. 

Organised by Quinic Events, the event is held at Olympia London, and includes key features such as live demonstrations from the London School of Tea at the Tea Workshop Theatre, a live roastery and a barista masterclass. The next edition will be from 19-20 May 2020.

7. Bellavita

Organised by Quiris Media, Bellavita sees more than 6,000 industry attendees and 300 VIP judges attend across the two-day event at the Business Design Centre. In 2019, over 250 Mediterranean producers exhibited over 3,000 products, including several from Spain, as the show was co-located with Ibérica Expo.

Features include the BeFood and BeWine stages, where attendees can learn more about food and wines through talks, tastings and demonstrations. The event also hosts the Decanter World Wine awards, in addition to a number of special guests, with previous guests including: Michelin Star chef and Masterchef Italia judge Giorgio Locatelli; beer sommelier Natalya Watson; The Buyer editor Richard Siddle; and many more.

8. Street Food Live:

Organised by Prysm Media Group, Street Food Live (which is co-located with Restaurant and Takeaway Innovation Expo, Coffee Shop Innovation Expo, Restaurant and Bar Tech Live, IDE and the Restaurant and Bar Design Show) is ‘dedicated to showcasing the latest new products and services’ within the food and drinks sector. The show is also focused on what consumers want, and so will be highlighting sustainability and how the industry can go greener at the 2020 show, whilst also reflecting the wants and needs of those in the industry themselves.

A key feature of the event is the Street Kitchen, which was last year sponsored by Iceland. The company used the platform to showcase and live cook its street-food range, whilst also giving visitors a masterclass in how to ‘finesse their fast-food offering’. In 2020 this will continue to be a part of the event, held from 8-9 September. 

9. The Food and Drink Expo:

The Food and Drink Expo has been running for the past 26 years, attracting those within the retail, wholesale and foodservice industries, with a key focus on finished products and tackling the challenges that affect the sectors.

The event is co-located with The Ingredients Show, Foodex, the National Convenience Show and the Farm Shop and Deli Show, and annually attracts 30,000 attendees across three days, in addition to hosting 1,500 exhibitors, 250 speakers and 100 live events.

Features for the 2020 show include the Grocer Magazine’s Talking Shop Live, which will allow Grocer editor Adam Leyland to debate with a number of special guests, alongside live sessions including masterclasses, interviews, plenary sessions and panel discussions. 

Among the exhibitors that the event attracts are Bridor, Campden, BRI, Coffee Central and the Vegetarian Society. NEC, 30 March to 1 April.

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