I am sure many of you have been to food festivals. Some of the larger ones in exhibition halls can be overwhelming. Hoards of people streaming along the aisles like snakes determined to catch their prey, relentless in the pursuit of something to eat. A trade show is quite a different thing. You arrive at the venue and you park within sight of the entrance. Once inside, there’s a calmness and sense of purpose, it’s a pleasure to walk round rather than the relentless quest not to get squashed in the flow.
One grey January Sunday, Caroline and I attended the Speciality Food Fair. This has become one of the highlights of our foodie year. On each visit we’ve discovered new, exciting products and encountered proud proprietors. We’re excited to see what we’ll find this time.
The Food Fair is co-located with a gift fair and it is initially rather confusing. We walk past some rather lovely tea towels and cake stands, but we then realise we haven’t quite got to the food fair as we pass pashminas and jewellery. Ah, that’s better, we’ve reached the food stands. They are particularly smart this year, giving the impression of a rather superior Farmers’ Market – rows of stands pleasingly laden with food.
We promise ourselves we’ll concentrate on new producers to make the best use of our time, but just have to have a quick chat to the Kwan’s. I make the mistake of trying a very delicious, but very garlicky sauce which rather masks the next product I try, (their products are rather irresistible).
Visitors to the fair are from delis, shops and restaurants seeking new products to sell to entice customers into their premises. We keep bumping into an American couple that appear to be buying for a shop specialising in British products – in Texas! There is a palpable sense of excitement in the air from some stallholders who have been awarded accolades for their wares in the Best Product Awards.
What makes a product irresistible?
It got us thinking, what makes a product desirable. Taste is all important, but when you walk in to the deli, what will grab your attention? As purchasers, we make our minds up very quickly. It takes just a few seconds to get an impression. The packaging has to stand out to compete and a catchy name goes a long way too.
We really weren’t enamoured by the name Cocoa Ooze – I am sure the company’s products are great, but I just didn’t fancy tasting it – ooze has not so nice connotations to me. A big personality is great and we were utterly charmed by a super couple from the Original Isle of Man Fudge Factory selling sweeties called “knobs”. However, we really felt you’d need them promoting their product in your shop. There’s no defined identity between their products and it was difficult to find the name of the company.
The Fine Cheese Company (from Bath, England) show how it really should be done. You can see that someone who really “gets” food and has a true sense of what appeals has been at work. The Millers Damsels packaging is seemingly simple and is adorned with photographs of the food within. The packaging is beautiful in its own right and the biscuits within do not disappoint. These are thin slivers, shaped in rounds, squares and hexagons, each a different pleasing colour, charcoal grey, golden brown, warming red – they taste pretty darn good too.
But what about the website?
Producers attend this show to attract new buyers. Maybe I am too much of a marketer, but one of the first things I’d check out is the website. We were impressed with the taste of Syruplicious sauces. The bottles are unusual and could be a challenge as they will take up quite a bit of shelf space . On visiting the website, the first thing you see is a note ” Coming soon… We will be launching Syruplicious online very soon.Please join our mailing list”. Please, please check that your website doesn’t have such a message. To me it doesn’t say the website’s not ready, but we’re not ready to sell.
I am very, very fond of Saladworx products, particularly their Hebridean Lemon dressing, but to my knowledge their website has been “in creation” for at least a year. It is so, so easy to set up a blog. You don’t need anything exotic to start with. What is the excuse?
The Braw Foods website gets it right. It is very simple. You can quickly see how to order and to check out. Just the way it should be done.
The Scottish Products that Impressed
So, the most important part of the show, the products. What caught our eye this year? Ask your local deli if they’re going to be stocking them! The choice is cheering, it’s getting so much wider and diverse. Fabulous eating ahead in 2013!
Acanthus Hand Made Pies
Richard Corrigan makes beautiful traditional pies from the individual to enormous ones fit for a banquet (see photo at the top of the most). He makes them for a growing number of companies including the fabulous Peelham Farm – using meat raised on their farm. We ate our way through the range (sorry but someone had to do it) and pronounced them the sort of pies you dream about, often. Tel: 07979 523 047 @acanthuspies
We were so impressed with these snack bars that they merit their own post.
There’s a lovely community of producers on Twitter. It was a particular pleasure to meet Natalie Clayton of Hebridean Sea Salt at last! We are so proud to be using this Scottish product in all our cooking (following many of our top chefs). Why use Maldon salt?
Uncle Roy’s has an impressive array of Great Taste Awards. We were particularly taken with his range of natural extracts and essences (from allspice to woodsmoke) and natural colours – immediately giving us inspiration for future baking.
Stockan’s have an impressive pedigree going back 100 years. They’re based in Orkney and produce some superbly crisp oat cakes. We particularly like their new mini oatcakes in garlic, cheese, and cracked black pepper flavours.
To say Elaine Forrest is passionate about chocolate is a understatement, she lives and breathes it. She specialises in high quality chocolate for drinking, cooking and baking and has also developed some eye catching red and black packaging for Valentine’s and other occasions.