Big names and a new venue promise to make IFE 2001 a must for the food and drink industry When it opens later this month, IFE 2001 ­ the UK's largest exhibition devoted exclusively to food and drink ­ promises to be one of the most memorable in the show's 22-year history. Held bi-annually, 2001 sees the show move from its traditional home at Earls Court to London's new state of the art exhibition centre ExCel from March 25 to March 28. The move to the new venue, which offers more conveniently arranged floor space and greatly improved access for visitors and exhibitors alike, has generated widespread interest from companies at home and abroad. Purpose-built modern facilities, a dramatic Dockside location and the close proximity of the City of London airport combine to make ExCel a truly world-class setting for an exhibition already known across Europe and beyond as a major UK showcase for the food and drink industry. The largest single-site exhibition venue in London, the £250m centre offers exhibitors the immediate advantages of easy build up and breakdown, plentiful drive-in access and no columns to obscure 90,000 square metres of space in its one show level. For visitors, a wide choice of quality, big name food outlets, offering everything from grab and go to gourmet dining at high street prices, should make eating at the exhibition a pleasure, not an expensive necessity. Moving around the exhibition will also be much easier than at Earls Court. With everything on one level, the show has been divided into 12 clear product sections, ranging from seafood and organics to packaging & design and e-business solutions. In 1999, 38,000 visitors for retail, catering and wholesale came to IFE looking for the latest ideas and innovations from 1,400 exhibitors. This year visitor numbers are expected to be up to 40,000 and exhibitors close to 1,500. ExCel's proximity to the City of London airport, with direct flights to 23 European cities, has set the stage for a much stronger international presence. Half the companies exhibiting are based outside the UK, with 30 national and regional bodies taking pavilions to showcase the best of their country's or region's speciality food and drink. Among them is Japan, exhibiting at IFE for the first time ever, and Canada which has taken on its biggest pavilion in 10 years. The US Department of Agriculture is sponsoring the American presence at the show, the first time in many years that IFE has been supported by a major US government body. Regional producers are stepping up their presence, demonstrating the growing importance of regional specialities, with Gran Canaria, Extremadura, Galicia, Puglia, Calabria, Sardinia and Sicily ­ areas of Spain and Italy with their own distinctive culinary traditions ­ taking their own individual pavilions. Visitors will also find the very best of British produce and products at the show, with an entire section devoted to Speciality Foods from Britain. Speciality food and drink producers from Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, plus various regional food groups, will also be out in force in their own dedicated pavilions. IFE has always been a show packed with activities and the 2001 event is no exception. The Innovation Zone, first seen at IFE 1999, has been expanded and enhanced to feature a range of debates, seminars and demonstrations, highlighting current trends and issues. It will be the venue for the show's official opening by Nick Brown, Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, on Monday, March 26 at 11am. This will be followed by the Soil Association's launch of its Organic Food and Farming Report 2001 on primary production, food processing and organic retailing. The Innovation Zone's programme includes: - Business Breakfasts, a series of three early-morning seminars enabling buyers to begin their day at IFE with a high level exchange of ideas. Topics include how to create successful e-business solutions by director Alan Taylor of e-services consultancy Sapient (Monday) and a comparison of the UK and Japanese convenience store markets, hosted by the Association of Convenience Stores (Tuesday). The challenges of global branding, taking Wal-Mart and Asda own label brands as a starting point, will be discussed by Asda head of marketing Liz Ashton and AC Nielsen retailing manager Mike Watkins on Wednesday. Places are limited at £25 per session so advance booking is necessary, tel: 020 7886 3095. - The World of Cheese makes its debut and includes seminars run by Bob Farrand of the UK Cheese Guild designed to assist retailers to increase cheese sales. Staff training to increase deli counter sales (Monday and Tuesday) is followed by profitable cheese boards covering ways to boost sales through portion control and good selection (Wednesday). - The Soil Association is running three hour long seminars on organic certification in the UK and abroad, the future development of organic standards and the major shifts and trends in the organic trade. Other show events and features include: - A Trends Zone, sponsored by Taylor Nelson Sofres, providing a detailed look at Europe's retail and grocery markets and covering alcoholic beverages, confectionery, organics, food consumption and eating out. - The International Beer & Cider Competition, organised by The Grocer's sister title Off Licence News, which has attracted well over 300 entrants from all over the world. Visitors can see and sample the winners from each of the 18 categories on the competition stand. - An international buyers lounge specifically for the 4,000-plus overseas visitors from 100 countries which IFE regularly attracts. The lounge provides buyers with free refreshments, translators, business facilities and information on exhibitors. A list of innovative supermarket outlets is available on request to buyers wishing to explore the UK retail industry. - A wealth of information on IFE 2001 is available on the show's interactive website This has full details of all exhibitors updated on a daily basis, and includes web links, contact information and direct e-mail links to companies at the show. {{FOCUS SPECIALS }}