Brave entrepreneurs will next month come face to face with fearsomely experienced food and drink industry experts to pitch their products.

Taking place at The UK Food & Drink Shows in the NEC, Birmingham, the Dragons’ Pantry events give suppliers the opportunity to make a 15-minute pitch to an expert panel. In return, the producers will get insights, the chance to secure a listing with one of the ‘dragons’, and coverage in The Grocer.

We asked some of the experts on the Dragons’ Pantry panels to explain what it is that can make a product or producer stand out in the crowded food and drink market.

Paul Hargreaves

Founder and CEO, Cotswold Fayre

Dragons’ Pantry is a good forum to test the temperature of the current innovation in the sector.

Saleability would be one of the main characteristics I look for. Too many products come into our office that feature the latest trends but would only sell to a small percentage of the UK population. I always say that a product must sell in a deli in Newcastle as well as a trendy London foodhall.

Clearly the person presenting the brand also needs to be passionate and authentic. A question I ask myself when on these panels is: “Would I invest in this business?” The prize on Dragons’ Pantry is not investment, but that is a good question to ask to determine which brands have potential.

Zoe Farmer

Global director retail management, Gateretail

At [leading airline retailer] Gateretail it is all about our airline passengers. We are always looking for fun, innovative products that will sell well and have sustainability at their heart. They need to have strong traction across various demographics and have a wide audience appeal. Capability to be able to deliver across Europe is important and supply chain stability is critical.

We want the products to jump out in our communications and be easy for our passengers to understand and desire on a flight. Ease of opening is important, as is how we serve the product and present it to passengers. It needs to be sturdy enough not to break onboard and cope with the pressure of the aeroplane. When it comes to flavour, suppliers need to remember that being up in the sky will impact a passenger’s tastebuds.

Nicki Stewart

Director, Diverse Fine Food

There are a number of factors that make a great artisan product, and these are carried through the selection process at Diverse.

There is a big emphasis on branding as the product must stand out on a retailer’s shelf and create interest for the consumer. The design is paramount and can make a huge difference with the success of a brand.

The second and equally important factor is taste. You can have a fantastic-looking product but if the quality does not match the appeal of the pack, the consumer will not buy again. We only select new brands that meet our design criteria and have been produced using quality, artisan ingredients. One without the other does not work for our high-end customers.

The last area is origins and ethos. I have rules on product origins and the ethics behind ingredients and production, particularly with regards to animal welfare. We have one of the highest criteria in the industry for producers presenting products of animal origin. We have rejected products and contracts if we feel our ethics are not aligned.

Dragons Pantry 2

Heerum Fleary

Procurement partner, TickEat

When considering a new product it is necessary to wear two hats: the consumer and the buyer.

As a consumer I look for whether a gap has been filled in the market. Has the brand created a solution for me? How innovative is the product? What is its USP? Brand story is also key as consumers not only purchase a product, they look at its story and how it all began.

Looking as a buyer, it is important the product is priced to be affordable (especially in this climate of constantly rising prices). Can the brand fulfil orders whether it is targeting a retailer or foodservice business? It is important the supplier has the following in place: some form of food accreditation, capacity, and capability to scale up if required.

Danny Abello

MD, DA Connections

What I look for in any new product is the brand story, the brand principles and that the product has a great taste! As consumers we become engaged with a brand’s story/journey and the elements that make the brand and its product stand out from the competitors.

I also look for key unique selling points that are current and on-trend such as gluten-free, vegan, green credentials and sustainable packaging.

It is always advantageous that brand packaging has good shelf presence. I am a strong believer that consumers buy with their eyes and repeat-buy with the taste.

Just as important are the people behind the brand. It is them, and their passion, that are ultimately the key to success and longevity.

Eleanor Hatfield

Words & Wisdom

As a strategic copywriter I’m all about the brand and am looking for effective brand storytelling. The products that stand out to me are ones that are meaningful innovations with the potential to be purposeful, problem-solving brands; early-stage scale-ups that understand what they stand for. At the pitch, this will be evidenced by the product itself, its branding and packaging but also the representative bringing the concept to life.

I’m less focused on the price point (my other dragons will cover that off). I’ll look for the innovation insight and the opportunity for the product to bring value and offer social currency. How does that product solve pain points, does it understand its ‘why’, is there an opportunity in the market and is the brand expressed – or  does it have the potential to be expressed – clearly, charismatically and consistently? These tend to be showcased by a cohesive brand story that acts as a thread through all parts of the brand, its architecture and its communication.

You can have a great product but it won’t land if the story doesn’t make sense and inspire.

Dragons’ Pantry is part of The UK Food & Drink Shows event taking place at NEC, Birmingham, from 25 to 27 April. Uniting four shows under one roof, it covers the complete supply chain in three days of insight, innovation and inspiration, with the content of each show tailored to meet the requirements of its respective audience.

The Dragons’ Pantry sessions are being held at 9.45am on Tuesday 26 April and 10am on Wednesday 27 April.



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