Nick Hughes looks ahead to IFE 2022 and what we can expect from the food industry

Food and environmental affairs writer, Nick Hughes, talks to us again, this time about 2022 food trends in the run up to IFE:

When food and drink professionals gather face-to-face for the International Food and Drink Event 2022 (IFE) in March it will be a welcome opportunity to celebrate the products and brands that have sustained us during the past two turbulent years.

Trade shows provide a unique opportunity for brand owners to showcase their products to a captive audience of buyers that simply can’t be replicated in a virtual setting.

The pent up demand to experience in person all that is new in food and drink is set to make IFE 2022 a particularly highly-anticipated event. And while we mustn’t gloss over the substantial challenges impacting food supply chains at the moment, it remains the case that the UK is a hugely attractive market for international food and drink brands.

There are several reasons for this in my view. First, and perhaps most significantly, the pandemic has severely limited people’s ability to visit exotic locations where they can experience first-hand local cuisines and cultures. Far from dampening our appetite for international food and drink, this enforced period of domesticity has appeared to heighten our collective sense of wanderlust and made us keener than ever to bring those products and brands into our kitchens and recreate for ourselves the flavours and senses of world cuisines.

World food categories have traded strongly during the pandemic including those from outside the traditional stalwart categories of Indian, Italian and Thai. Surya Foods MD Harry Dulai told The Grocer recently he believed Korean food would soon become a category in its own right thanks to innovations like his brand’s Sun Hee range which includes a traditional Korean BBQ sauce, gochujang (sun-dried red chilli paste) and doenjang (soybean paste) and is now listed in Tesco.

The success of Korean foods links strongly to another trend that continues to play to the advantage of international brands. Korean culture has been in the spotlight thanks to the success of the Netflix series Squid Game as well as the Oscar winning film Parasite. Consumers are more exposed than ever to overseas cultures via social media and on-demand entertainment. Waitrose executive director James Bailey wrote in the retailer’s 2021-22 food and drink report that platforms like TikTok and Instagram have “made the food world a wonderfully intimate place”, noting that “a food trend might take off in South Korea and within a day half a million people over here are asking our in-store Waitrose partners: ‘What’s this ingredient?’”. This consumer desire for instant discovery of new food cultures gives brand owners a fantastic opportunity to show buyers how they are meeting that demand through smart innovation and marketing.

Millenials and Generation Z are said to be driving much of the demand for new, exotic products. Demand is such that even household name suppliers are looking to get in on the act. During the summer, I was among a group of journalists to get an early preview of Nestlé’s newest wave of innovation among which was a range of Middle Eastern-inspired meal kits under the Mezeast brand.

Nestlé considers Middle Eastern cuisine an area with great potential on account of its exciting flavours and strong health profile. The theory is that as consumers become confident cooking with better known foods like falafels, tahini and kofta they will start experimenting with more hidden gems like pomegranate sauce, toum and muhammara.

The fact that major producers are prepared to make big investments in launching new world foods into an ultra-competitive marketplace like the UK should give heart to other brands looking to exploit similar opportunities.

So too should a growing willingness to support international brands with marketing campaigns. The recent Mutti TV advert fronted by farmer and presenter Jimmy Doherty struck me as a big statement of intent by the Italian tomato brand and a sign of confidence in the prospects for the UK market. The company says the brand has added £3.8 million in sales to the tomato category this year and in the last 12 months sales have grown 150%.

All of this has been achieved during a period when it’s been difficult for international brand owners to get their products in front of a UK audience. That’s all set to change in 2022. When buyers finally get the opportunity to interact and engage with suppliers face-to-face the prospects for future growth in international brands will only look brighter.