It's reputedly the most innovative event in the food exhibition calendar, and an unmissable networking opportunity Next week Food & Drink Expo, the UK's first major food and drink event of the new millennium, throws opens its doors at Birmingham's NEC to buyers right across the whole food spectrum. Running from March 19-22, the biennial show will once again live up to its reputation as the most innovative event in the food exhibition calendar. More than 200 exhibitors are planning to launch new products, plus the Expo will be a showcase for a diverse range of ethnic, speciality and fine foods, as well as providing the opportunity to see the latest developments and sources of supply in organics and fresh produce. Food & Drink Expo will be the largest non equipment' food led event the UK has ever seen. Its 700 exhibitors will be spread over three halls (17, 18 and 19) and divided into four definitive fairs: Retail, International Fresh Produce, Catering and Ingredients. In addition four further shows are running alongside ­ The Convenience Retailing Show, Foodex Meatex, Food and Bake, and for the first time, The Non Food Fair, providing visitors with a unique opportunity to see more than one show. Over the expo's four days, organiser Miller Freeman expects key buyers from 30 countries to attend the event. Event director Cathy Oates says: "In both retail and catering markets the demand for new products and ideas is growing. Suppliers are having to be increasingly innovative, whether they be a supermarket, specialist grocer, convenience store, restaurant, hotel or café. Staying ahead of consumer demands and competitors in this rapidly diversifying marketplace means finding the best in innovation before your competitors. Food & Drink Expo will provide retailers and caterers with an invaluable opportunity to see and try products from both the UK and overseas that will lead the market in the next year." As the expo is strictly trade only, it has become widely recognised by buyers and exhibitors as the place to do business'. A new premier club initiative has been set up to encourage buyers and independent retailers to take time to talk to existing and potential suppliers in a relaxed, comfortable and businesslike environment. The Premier Retailer Club and the Premier Caterer Club will ensure fast track entry to the expo and provide an appointment booking system with exhibitors to help maximise visitors' time at the show. For further details please phone 0181 987 7612. To help visitors move easily around expo, each of the four fairs has colour coded carpets, clear product trails and a product indexed catalogue. So what can buyers expect from each of the four fairs? The Retail Fair, the largest of the four, is pitched squarely at grocery retailers and will reflect the latest trends in ready meals, organics, value added goods and innovative packaging. It will house the Speciality Food from Britain Pavilion featuring more than 70 small UK suppliers of speciality products ranging from fudge, jam and ice cream, to cider, cheese and sausages. The aim of these small producers in attending the show is to gain wider awareness of their products and to develop new retail outlets. A large number of international exhibitors will be located within the retail section of expo, many within international pavilions. Countries showcasing their products include Sweden, Germany, Belgium, Holland, France, Egypt, Zimbabwe, Tunisia, Italy and Malaysia. Their presence will create new import opportunities for retailers seeking unusual, exotic or speciality products. At the same time, England's neighbours ­ Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland ­ will be showcasing their diverse speciality food and drink products. Perhaps the most colourful, and timely, addition to the show will be the Organics Village. Contained with the UK's only dedicated international event for fresh produce ­ the International Fresh Produce Fair ­ it will offer buyers fresh sources of supply and ideas and is supported by the Soil Association. As organics will be featured throughout the show, the catalogue will have an organics trail' to help visitors identify which companies are offering these products. The Catering Fair, as its name suggests, is a dedicated catering event. With a strict no equipment policy, its focus will be entirely on food and drink. In The Ingredients Fair, which is primarily targeted at food manufacturers, caterers, processors and research and development executives, the focus will be on traditional ingredients, seasonings and additives, as well as new and innovative ideas and products. Food & Drink Expo will also see the return of the live demonstration area where visitors can witness state of the art food preparation and menu planning ideas with top quality products prepared by professional chefs. A Best of Menu theme will take place to include the best of British, organics, ethnic and international cuisine. {{FOCUS SPECIALS }}