Food and Drink Expo goes from strength to strength, with a third more exhibitors, its biggest contingent of local producers and a record number of international stands. Ronan Hegarty previews this year’s show

A record number of regional and speciality producers from the UK will be gathering under the banner of Food and Drink Expo 2004, which is being held at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham from March 14-17.

A total of 700 exhibitors will be taking up their stands and 25,000 visitors are expected through the exhibition halls.

The show will boast the presence of the industry’s biggest movers and shakers, including Lord Whitty, Minister for Farming, Food and Sustainable Energy and Sir Don Curry, head of the Commission into the Future of Farming and Food.

It also offers a chance to view and taste a wide variety of products from international exhibitors from more than 30 countries. Among the innovative new wares on display are Newcastle Brown Ale sausages, lobster-flavoured crisps and energy drinks that taste like bubble gum.

Visitors can also attend the Convenience Retailing Show 2004, which takes place at the NEC over the same four days.

Exhibition director Andrew Reed, of show organiser William Reed Exhibitions, part of the group that publishes The Grocer, says: “As well as attracting the largest ever gathering of UK speciality food and drink firms, the response from international exhibitors has been phenomenal, reflecting the massive importance of the British food and drink market.”

The keynote speeches will begin on the Monday with an address by Lord Whitty, who will then tour the show. There will also be a high-powered discussion on the way ahead for the UK food chain, with Sir Don, Unilever Bestfoods sales director Tony Smith, IGD chief executive Joanne Denny-Finch and Safeway communications director Kevin Hawkins.

Other issues scheduled for discussion include local sourcing, eco-terrorism and its effects on exporting from the UK, as well as a panel discussion on the challenge of selling products into the UK.