Just back from the above, in the company of my good friend Stella of Hatters’ Catering. It was really inspirational and the networking was great. However for small businesses travelling down from Scotland, staying over etc – I guess exhibiting is quite costly in both time and money; is it worth it? Would I recommend it?
The Expo takes in five shows, incorporating all aspects of the trade through manufacture to retail. Our main interest was in the Farm Shop and Deli Show, but we had a quick look through everything else on our way there. One of the early exhibits was this delightful camper van, and we just couldn’t walk past it without having a closer look. TME sells thermometers – not glamorous but of course temperature is everything in food production, and this family-run company has invented a simple, modular system which can be used by all sizes of operation, and seemed to us to be very good value, even at entry level. If we were to open a deli, this is what we’d choose, and at only about £115 for a starter kit, giving us peace of mind re fridge and freezer monitoring and control, we reckon we’d be well pleased. However – the main point I’m making here is that they have managed to create a really inviting display from the most mundane of subject matter. The little fridge inside the van is connected up to their system so we could have a full demo; and we just had to pose a bit because how often do you get a photo opportunity like that?!
The next batch of photos are really about showcasing a product and making it attractive enough to stand out in the crowd.
This stand was absolutely beautiful. They were selling natural food colourings – not such an exciting product – but they had such lovely vibrant displays of colour; and such delicious-looking ice cream with sprinkles and sauces, that we were tempted to stop and have a closer look, and sample their wares. I’m sorry to say however that I can’t find their card so can’t give you their name or contact details. Note to self: engaging your customers is great but don’t forget the basics!
Next was The Chilli Doctor: we have good chilli-based companies near home and I wouldn’t really be interested in looking at some other supplier. What made me pause was the great big map at the back of their stall, showing where in the world all their chillis came from – a great visual, bringing the romance of travel to the product. Also they were offering dishes of boiled sweets flavoured with chilli, which was an intriguing prospect; and made you pause while you chewed, giving them time to draw you into their story. The sweets were deliciously hot, another conversation-opener.
A stall headed ‘Monte das Louzeiras’ was never going to attract our attention but they had a beautifully-packaged product, simply displayed and we had to stop for a closer look. This is a range of oils, vinegars, wines, herbs and honeys from Portugal. The oil bottles pictured here had a blue, white and gold covering inspired by Portuguese tiles, reminiscent of the vast railway station in Oporto. Maybe not a covering; maybe the whole bottle was white. It would have been good to buy one and find out, but most of these goods weren’t on sale.
Jakes and Nayns is a company creating stuffed Naan-bread things which are a cross between a sandwich and a pie. They were giving out nice substantial slices of these, which were truly delicious; so again, the built-in pause involved in eating the sample gave the stall-holders the chance to tell you about their product. What was interesting about this, apart from the delicious flavours, was the recyclable packaging and the good shelf life on the pies. ‘Taste the world in your hands’ was their strapline, and the pie-sandwiches are already in the supermarkets and selling well.
By this time we were thirsty, so the next stall was well placed to assist us. There was no shortage of beer, wine and spirits among the exhibitions, but the familiarity of the Peaky Blinders name stopped us in our tracks and again, the stallholders were generous in their sample offerings. We wondered how they had managed to get the use of the name of the famous TV series; and it seems that the first episode of the first series was shot in this company’s brewery. By the end of the first day’s filming it was apparent that this show was destined to be a huge hit, so the CEO got straight onto the internet and got the rights to the name for his products.
This next photo is of a stand called ‘Dragon’, and features cheeses made from all over Wales. They’ve used various Welsh icons like the daffodils and the slate on which to display the cheeses; and they also had lots of conveniently-packaged information and little samples of the product. The stallholder was very knowledgeable about the different types of cheese and the stall was pleasant and attractive.
Then, needing a little rest, we found some tables and benches and plonked ourselves down – only to have waiters bringing out platters of deliciously-thin crackers, and moistly cool cheeses. The great Patricia Michelson arrived on a podium in front of us and was introduced to great applause: we’d happened by chance on a talk about how to store and display local cheeses in your deli, if only you had one. Her story is good; how she started her business when skiing in France, fell in love with the local cheese, and brought home a vast wheel of Beaufort Chalet d’Alpage, which she sold from her garden shed. Her talk was all about how to display cheese for good sales effect, and she had a series of photos of cheese stalls taken mainly from England with some further afield. This included Iain Mellis’s in Edinburgh, which was nice to see. She spoke with great warmth, enthusiasm and modesty, and 45 minutes passed in the crunch of a cracker. My photos didn’t come out very well but here are the gorgeous artisan loaves which formed the backdrop of the ‘talks’ area.
The next talk was about English wine. Still seated in the same place, the napkins were whisked away and we were given large fold-out maps of the English wine regions, along with blank tasting-note pages. This was a two-handed talk by Julia Trustram Eve of Wines of Great Britain Ltd, and Neil Phillips, ‘The Wine Tipster’. We were treated to four successive English wines, and talked through the tasting of each, in a hugely informative, collaborative style. By the end of this presentation, you really felt you had learned something, as well as tasting some beautiful wines. For example – they pointed out from their map that there is a swathe of vineyards curving along the south coast of England; these chalky geological conditions apparently disappear under the English Channel and come out again in the Champagne region. Climate change plus the developing expertise of English winemakers has enabled them to produce delicious wines which stand alone without the need for comparison with French or other wines. Both these presenters were great communicators and together they gave a wonderfully engaging slant on the greatness of English wines, and why we should buy and drink more of them. I was definitely convinced.
After all this we felt it was time to find Scotland. But where was she? As it turned out, all the Scottish stalls were clustered together around aisle G. I know we missed quite a few, and it was now 4pm. The generosity of the samples being offered seemed looser and bigger, and we spent our last hour in a delightful slew of new and recently established distillery products. So we had Boe’s gins, including a delightful violet one; Lindores Abbey Distillery’s Aqua Vita, about which I have previously waxed lyrical, and here made into a long drink with ginger beer and a slice of lime; the wonderful Cairn O’Mhor’s fruit wines, yum yum; Strathearn Distillery‘s wonderful gin, rum and whisky; and perhaps the most recent kid on the block, Never25 and their three lovely eaux de vie, in strawberry, apple and raspberry. The show finished at 5pm and we seemed to be the last to leave at around 5.45. It was a great day.
Now this has been a long post and I don’t want to outstay my welcome. But for those contemplating taking a stall, I’d say – take as much space as you can afford and use it well, with a really dramatic central theme/prop. Give plenty good quality information, and generous samples to keep people slurping and chewing. Have really engaging, welcoming staff. And give lots of story, regionality, provenance and good humour.
The English Wine presentation showed the great benefit of an overall body which can showcase a range of products to best possible effect, generating positive responses to the whole range and encouraging people to take a punt. Maybe Scotland Food and Drink will be able to come up with a strongly supportive platform to help our great produce take its place at a bigger table.