A walk round this month's Speciality & Fine Food Fair in London demonstrates the changing landscape of where speciality products are being sourced from. Where up until about five years ago the majority of speciality foods hailed from either Italy, in the guise of olive oils and pastas, or from Spain and Greece in the form of olives and stuffed vine leaves, today foods are being sourced from much further afield.
Take Chinese, Indian and Thai foods out of the equation and you are still left with a vast array of countries that have managed to tap into the speciality arena, sometimes in the most unlikely of ways.
Australia, for example, best known for its beer and wine, is the source of the latest confectionery to hit the speciality sector. Australian soft liquorice, which commands a much higher price than its standard equivalent, has soared in popularity this past year, with a number of companies now importing it into the UK.
Perhaps the most noticeable rise of speciality foods is those coming from Eastern European countries, such as Poland, thanks to the country's recent inclusion into the EU and the growing Polish population in the UK. In fact, Polish cuisine is now proving so popular that speciality foods distributor RH Amar recently extended its offering to encompass a range of traditional, premium Polish foods.
Marketing director Simon Fry says: "We keep our ear to the ground and keep abreast of what the multiples tell us. About 12 months ago both Tesco and Asda marked Eastern European foods as the next big thing, and Poland is the obvious first point of call because of the number of Polish people coming over to the UK."
According to research conducted by the Federation of Poles, the UK Polish population now stands at 750,000 people and this population is getting younger.
It is not just Polish delicacies that will be hitting shops within the coming 12 months, says Fry, who identifies that foods from Slovakia, Russia, Hungary and Estonia will slowly start to filter through as the number of nationals living in this country increases.
Products RH Amar is stocking include sauerkraut, red cabbage and traditional foods such as stews and meatballs in ambient formats. But Fry stresses it is not just their ethnicity that makes them a speciality; they also have to be of the highest quality. The company says it sources from only the premium end of the market and ensures that authenticity is high on the agenda.
It is not only foods from Eastern Europe that are coming to the fore, those from Scandinavia are also making a much greater impact than in previous years.
Lena Nerland, MD of Scandinavian food company Nordic Delicatessen, says the impact of Ikea in the UK over the past decade has had a knock-on effect for Scandinavian food. "Ikea is helping me get the word out about Scandinavian food," she says.
But there is more to the cuisine than the just the meatballs that the flat-pack giant sells in its café, she says, with the company selling items such as its golden tea sweetener - a refined sugar alternative made from wild cloudberries - and cured lamb, which is a Scandinavian take on the more traditional Parma and Iberico hams.
That said, the old favourites continue to do well, although foods from Italy in particular have achieved such mainstream appeal that many have lost their speciality status.
Raheel Uddin, senior national accounts manager at fine foods distributor Bevelynn, says that the attention for Mediterranean foods has very much switched from Italy to Spain and Greece.
As a result, the company has extended its range of 27 Greek lines from 27 stores to listings in 179 stores.n