Welcome to The Grocery Trader’s preview of The Speciality & Fine Food Fair 2011. In a few weeks’ time this year’s London event opens its doors at Olympia, running from 4-6 September. The Grocery Trader has been coming to this show since 2002, and it’s great to see this important part of the UK food calendar going from strength to strength.

A generation ago, Britain’s image in the eyes of the rest of the world, and especially countries like France and Italy, was that we lived in a food lover’s hell. Everything we ate was either overcooked or flavourless, a nation sustained by plastic bread and rubber cheeses and not knowing any better. We put salt on everything. To claim a food allergy was to risk being called a hypochondriac, or worse.  And back then hardly anyone knew what ‘organic’ meant.

That was then. In the last thirty years Britain has seen a real food revolution, with the emphasis on ‘real food.’ It started with a resurgence of small producers building their businesses on supplying the small specialist retailers, delis and food halls, and reluctant to have any dealings with the big supermarkets.

Ten years back if you walked round the Speciality & Fine Food Fair, on a straw poll of people on the stands at the show, the exhibitors polarised into those who were loathe to sell to the multiples – the majority – and the few who were happy to talk to them. The reality was, back then, many suppliers had been burnt by the supermarkets, and had an aversion to doing any more business with them.

What’s marked this last decade out is that there are now large numbers of small producers, including people coming into the market after careers in large food companies, with the confidence to take on the supermarkets. At the same time the supermarkets have taken to heart the consumers’ concerns and the small suppliers’ defensiveness, and publicised their involvement with these suppliers as an important part of their regional strategy.

As a result of all this, the UK market place for speciality and fine foods has changed enormously over the years: what once was the elitist preserve of wealthy people, country dwellers and, let’s be honest, food snobs is now much more egalitarian and, importantly, urban.

As more and more consumers across the UK turn away from over processed food, and as well as using supermarkets, also shop at farmers’ markets and buy home-delivered vegetables from specialist suppliers, the emphasis everywhere is on real food, produced using traditional methods rather than industrial processes. So perhaps it’s time to re-name the Speciality & Fine Food Fair, where the emphasis is visibly on these values, “the real food fair.”

Enjoy the Show!

The Grocery Trader

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