There’s no substitute for being there

(The Anuga @Home Experience)

The Brand Nursery has been attending major international food trade events for over a decade – the Fancy Food Show in New York and (occasionally) San Francisco, SIAL in Paris, various UK shows, and Anuga in Cologne. They are a great way to uncover new food products and to spot emerging trends.

This year, Anuga ran from 10-13 October – one of the first ‘in-person’ shows since the Covid pandemic. There were less exhibitors than usual – around 4,500 compared to over 7,000 in previous years. They also offered ‘Anuga @Home’ as a way to virtually access the exhibition and attendant events, discussions and presentations.

I decided not to venture across to Cologne this time. I’ve always found the German rail system bewilderingly complicated, and it seemed a more sensible option to take advantage of the ‘at-home’ version at this point in time. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, or exactly what I would be able to access though…

So, how was the experience?

Watching the various expert presentations on new and emerging trends, and from specific exhibitors was much the same as it would have been around the main stages at the Koelnmesse. There were also ‘Guided Tours’ of selected categories (Meat Alternatives, Dairy Alternatives etc) that offered a chance to see how some of the exhibitors were pitching their new ideas.

There was an extensive database of ‘new to market’ products that were exhibiting at the Show, with accompanying images of the packaging, and a brief description of their ingredients, market positioning and rationale. It was the closest available equivalent to wandering the exhibitor halls at Anuga. But it really wasn’t the same.

It’s always beneficial to be able to see what new products are being introduced, and to reflect on the common flavours, ingredients and sectors that are emerging. But this kind of ‘cold’ cataloguing of products just can’t replicate the impact of seeing these products in the context of an exhibitor stand, and more importantly, smelling, touching and (above all) tasting the wares.

A new dairy-free camembert made using cauliflower is an intriguing concept, but without the ability to test how closely it resembles a soft Gallic cheese it’s hard to judge how impactful it will actually be with consumers.

Those intangible things that are an important aspect of Shows was also lacking @Home – the ‘buzz’ around exhibitor stands that indicates something new and intriguing, the overheard conversations that point the way towards something worth seeing, and the ability to meet and engage with real people.

A couple of years ago I had begun to feel that my Show experience was becoming a little repetitive – a sense of seeing more that was similar than genuinely new. Two years away, and the frustration of being distanced from the heart of the Anuga exhibition has engendered the opposite feeling. I can’t wait to get back to attending in person.

Key Trends Emerging From Anuga

What was very clear from the remote Anuga experience was a heavy focus on the continued expansion of plant-based meat, dairy and, more recently, fish alternatives.

Along with an abundance of new products emerging within the sector to increase consumer choice and to better replicate the animal-based equivalents was the emergence of new base ingredients – beans, carrots, potato protein and even millet were all being used alongside the more established soy, peas and coconut.

Fish and other seafood alternatives still lag some way behind, both in terms of the breadth of offering, but also in terms of format and closeness of resemblance to the ‘real thing’. There was a predominance of canned tuna alternatives that don’t yet appear as convincing as the meat-free burgers that are now well established.

The other really prominent trend that appears to have accelerated, probably as a consequence of Covid, is that for pro-active health/well-being drinks. Teas and RTD beverages that feature ingredients with naturally healthy properties have been around for some years, but the choice, and the specific health benefits appear to be evolving.

Along with an increased focus on skin-health (largely via collagen infused drinks) a greater focus on mental health and well-being is emerging. This is reflected both in the use of ingredients that aid calmness and relaxation (like Realax, a German drink range that claims to help treat anxiety) and the naming and presentation of new offerings. Soul Refresh is a brand that contains canned drinks called ‘Glow’, ‘Calm’ and ‘Rise’.

Beyond these prominent big trends, we also noticed a variety of new coffee products that are seeking to bring the in-home coffee experience more in line with out of home offerings. Everything from ‘drip coffee’ single cup filters (El Gusto) to coffee-topper grinder jars (Kotanyl) that enable consumers to add a spicy finishing touch to their brew.

Other eye-catching innovations;

  • The Coolives – aromatised olives packaged in “100% sustainable” little tins, infused with flavours ranging from black truffle to cherry and even pineapple
  • Black Truffle Bubbles – a Spanish offering that claimed to deliver “truffle taste and caviar texture”
  • Farin Up – baking mixes from Luxembourg in recyclable pouch packs; a funkier packaging approach for the modern home baker
  • Acuka Breakfast Spread – a savoury spread designed to be eaten warm
  • Guiltea – a Belgian alcoholic tea-based spirit

However, the caveat with all of these is that I have no idea what the product performance is actually like. If only I could have been there to try them…!

Words by Chris Blythe