10 observations from Farm Shop & Deli and The National Convenience Show 2019

Fran Weeks, Tuesday April 16, 2019

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The Digital Blonde team is just back from three days at the NEC, where we’ve been supporting the William Reed marketing team at the Farm Shop & Deli Show, The National Convenience Show and The Ingredients Show. While there is a lot of hard work, planning and organisation that goes into this work, it’s also a lot of fun getting to meet passionate producers and find out about the latest industry trends. In fact, every year the team comes back with a huge shopping list of things we plan to purchase following all the discoveries we make at the shows. At the top of this year’s list is Mummy Meagz vegan rocky road bars, Natural Umber apple cider vinegar and Tom’s Teas to name a few. 

We thought we’d share a few observations and highlights from this year’s show…

Farm shops are really invested in their marketing

As with previous years, Digital Blonde’s Founder Karen gave a talk at the Farm Shop & Deli Show and judging by the crowd the session drew – it’s safe to assume that farm shop owners are eager to learn more about marketing. It was a full house for Karen’s talk on using psychology to boost sales and marketing in store and online. Following the session, we’ve had some great feedback from attendees too. Farm shops and delis are certainly prioritising their marketing as much as the big retailers. 

There’s no stopping the gin innovation 

We loved the flavourful gin from GinTing, which is distilled with Juniper Berries, Cassia Bark, Coriander Seeds, Orange and Lemon Peel, plus a few other secret botanicals then infused with Passionfruit, Mango and Elderflower. It was so good - Digital Blonde’s Karen has already placed an order for a bottle. What we were also impressed by was how there were three different gin producers all on this stand. Instead of seeing other producers as competitors, they had teamed up to make the most of their marketing budget and get a stand together. We love to see brands supporting each other this way. 

Sustainability cannot be ignored

There is so much consumer awareness around plastics, sustainability and climate change and it’s often smaller, start-up brands, like many of those at the Farm Shop & Deli Show, that are in a strong position to act on this. The Digital Blonde team loved meeting the team from Two Farmers- the first hand cooked crisp brand to launch in 100% compostable bags. We were really impressed to learn how the bags take 26 weeks to compost in a home composter and 12 weeks in an industrial facility. 

Gluten free brands are stepping up their game

Being coeliac, Digital Blonde’s Karen always looks forward to making new gluten free discoveries. It’s fair to say that in the past, gluten free products often didn’t look or taste great, but that seems to be changing. Gluten free consumers have been demanding better and at last, the levels of awareness surrounding this have translated into attractively packed, genuinely delicious foods. It was refreshing to see so many gluten free snacks that looked every bit as good as others on the shelves. Among our favourite gluten free finds were Mummy Meagz vegan rocky road, KIND snack bars and Middleton Foods gluten free mixes.

Tea and coffee culture is for kids too

We loved meeting the team from Tom’s Teas who create dessert inspired fruit tea blends for children (and adults!). They contain no caffeine, no added sugar or sweeteners and can be enjoyed hot or cold, or even as an ice lolly. We liked how these teas tasted as good as they smelt and the way that they allowed children to be a part of adults’ tea and coffee break time. Through our family dining research, we’ve found that often, children just want to feel part of what grown-ups are doing. A morning coffee or afternoon cuppa are such well-established rituals for many adults, it’s nice to think that kids can join in too. Digital Blonde’s Nicola already has some on order!

Vegan food has a new image

The days of vegan food meaning lentils and not much else are well and truly behind us. We know from social media and various vegan influencers how good vegan foods and recipes can look and taste – and it’s great to see this trend appearing in the retail market too. The entire Digital Blonde team has totally fallen for vegan brand Mummy Meagz and their rocky road bars. Not only are they vegan, they’re gluten free too and really taste as indulgent as traditional rocky road should. We only wished we’d picked up a few more samples to take home with us!

We were also inspired by one of the show’s long-time speakers, Richard Fox, who has recently switched to a plant-based diet. Before introducing Karen’s session at the Farm Shop & Deli Show, Richard and Karen got talking behind the stage about his new blog Man Rejuvenated, all about his healthier lifestyle. Having looked at some of the tasty recipes featured, it’s another fantastic example of plant-based eating at its best. 

Low and no alcohol is a trend that’s here to stay

If you’re in the industry, you’ll no doubt have heard that young people today are drinking less alcohol. Overall, there has been a real trend for lower alcohol products and even no alcohol with brands like Seedlip continuing to be popular. At the Farm Shop & Deli Show, we were pleased to meet Small Beer Brew Co., the world’s first brewery to specialise in beers brewed between 0.5% and 2.8% ABV. After sampling some of their refreshing brews, we can certainly see why they’re doing so well. 

Clean eating’s not a fad, it’s expected

No-one really talks about “clean eating” any more – but this doesn’t mean it’s gone out of fashion, far from it in fact. At the show we encountered so many brands with simple ingredients lists and lower sugar content, it seems to be far more of the norm now. From sauces to snack bars and drinks, it was great to see how far the industry has come. 

Sports nutrition has gone mainstream

This is something we observed from The National Convenience Show, sports nutrition was once a niche area and now it’s a booming market. Having a post workout protein shake was once just for bodybuilders – now it’s a common sight at the gym. We loved hearing all about what’s next for this growing market in the Retailer Hub. The trend was very much reflected in the aisles too, with a huge range of protein-based and nutritionally-led snacks. It’s great that if you’re hungry on-the-go you don’t necessarily have to reach for a chocolate bar or crisps – there are snacks like the KIND bars and those from Barebells and Pro2Go available. 

There’s high interest in a buzzing new category

With the FSA reclassifying a certain plant extract as a novel food, it’s been interesting to see the boom in hemp-derived products. This trend was everywhere at the show this year from teas to cold drinks, oils, vapes, snacks and even face creams. We listened with interest to the talk on this topic from Philip Banfield of VentureField Ltd and enjoyed exploring the array of products at the show. We’ll be watching closely to see how retailers capitalise on this consumer interest.

These are just a few trends and brands that caught our attention, there’s no doubt we’ll be continuing the discussion online and, in our team WhatsApp group. Did you get a chance to visit any of the shows? We’d love to hear your thoughts if so.

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