A day at IFE An insight into the future of the food and drink sector

The IFE (The International Food and Drink Event) is a fantastic stage for the UK, European and even Worldwide food and drink producers to showcase their new products and connect with their network. Walking around the exhibition at the Excel London there was a real buzz and the sense that thee are exciting times ahead for the food and drink sector.

What stood out was the number of new brands and ‘niche’ products, in particular around artisan and luxury products. Despite consumers continuing to be cost conscious the sector still feel there is a strong place for these products. It is evident that consumers are not just looking for value but quality and luxury are still strong market drivers.

Despite the snacking sector being such a crowded market there is still the drive to succeed and offer something different to the consumer. I spoke to a Dutch business who were trying to crack the UK market for the first time. They have made significant investment in a new brand name and story specifically for the UK market. It is great to see the determination of businesses continuing to drive growth and development.

I was particularly keen to catch some of the seminars and talks during my day at IFE. One interesting comment was from Steve Murrells, the Chief Executive of Co-op Retail, who said that their business was still being driven by convenience and a sense of belonging in the local community – traditional values. However, he added that he is aware that they need to adapt to the consumers needs, but with tighter margins it would be difficult to adopt a similar ecommerce and home delivery model like the leading multiples. One of his suggestions was that the Co-Op adopt a ‘Pizza Delivery Model’ and have moped’s delivering your 6 pack of beer, pizza or curry direct to your door on a Friday night. I thought this was a great idea!

I was also interested in a seminar delivered by two economists from IGD and their Consumer Analysis team. They gave a fantastic insight in to the market around consumers and how suppliers and producers need to adapt. Their subjects included ‘What the changing economy means for Retailers and Suppliers’ and ‘Retailing in a Multichannel World’. Both talked about the positives but a few interesting insights were highlighted, in particular around attracting, developing and retaining talent, especially for suppliers.

According to IGD, the Food and Drink sector is the largest private sector employer in the UK. A continuing threat to the Food and Drink market is the on-going rise in employment costs. As a result suppliers need to continue to find new ways to improve productivity, seek new working methods and introduce new technologies.

In a recent survey by IGD they interviewed private sector food recruiters with 1 in 3 admitting that they find it difficult to attract and retain talent. This makes it even more critical for them to have strong people development plans in place along with attractive rewards (both cash and non-cash).

IGD also highlighted the need for suppliers to adapt to the multichannel environment. Growth is becoming limited within the large multiples, they now need to adapt to new shopping behaviours, improve supply chain efficiencies, tailor their solutions to other retail formats - engage with their target audience through new digital methods. This again puts pressure on their talent pool and being able to attract and retain talent to improve their offering.

From IGD’s findings it was evident that suppliers need to attract talent in the following areas to ensure they adapt to the changing market conditions:

1)      Digital - To speak to their customer base through new methods/ media channels.

2)      Supply Chain - To be efficient and capable of working in a multi-channel environment through Click and Collect and Home Delivery models. 

3)      NPD and Technical – To develop new solutions for new retail formats as they continue to be launched.

4)      Manufacturing – To improve efficiencies and reduce costs through increased automation and robotics.

5)      Sales – To manage the increased complexity of accounts, with a high level of customer service and efficiency.    

I look forward to attending more events in the coming year; meeting those who work in the sector to gain further insights in how the market is adapting.  It will also give me the opportunity to taste more fantastic products!

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