Maintaining strong levels of NPD is vital during a recession, which is why Innovation Live, a new interactive area showcasing the world's most innovative new products, is a must visit

The temptation in a downturn is to batten down the hatches and slash NPD budgets. But the wilier brands know that's the worse thing to do. As the multiples push their own-label ranges at the expense of branded products, only brands that stand out from the crowd because they're big - or clever - will be assured of a place on the supermarket shelf, in the wholesale depot or at the foodservice outlet.

Many of the most innovative of these will be showcasing their products at a brand new attraction for IFE09 - Innovation Live. Hosted in association with Mintel, Innovation Live offers visitors - whether manufacturers looking for inspiration or retailers looking for new products to distinguish their offer from the competition's - a unique interactive experience.

They will be able to see, touch and taste some of the world's most innovative products as sourced by Mintel's Global New Product Database team, as well as ask Mintel consultants for expert advice.

Smart brands are stepping up their rate of NPD, says David Jago, Mintel's trends and innovations director. "Innovation is crucial in a recession," he says. "Brand owners have to dig deep to keep consumers interested. In the latter half of 2008, we saw the same pattern we see every time there is an economic crisis. In the first few months, the number of new products launched on to the market drops. But in the six months after this - the time we are just coming into - things start to pick up. Companies will be chucking new stuff at the market."

Me-toos - new flavours, line extensions, sizes or formats - make up about 90% of new arrivals. However, those who can produce something unique can really hit the jackpot, as Lucozade Sport did during the previous recession, in the early 90s, when despite the harsh economic environment, it single-handedly created the sports and energy drinks category.

"Some of these developments look fairly ordinary to us now," says Jago. "In the early 90s we saw a rise in microwaveable options. Microwaves weren't new, of course, but suddenly there were all sorts of products designed specifically for use in them, such as microwaveable chips and popcorn."

Brands and retailers can also achieve standout by rethinking the way products are packaged or merchandised. Ideas come from multiple sources such as adjacent categories, other industries or even other markets, Jago says.

Some can even come from nature. Clarence Birdseye, who is considered to be the founder of the modern frozen food industry, stumbled upon the basis of modern freezing methods while fishing with the Inuit in Canada.

While few R&D directors would want to journey to such cold climes in search of ideas, most can make it to IFE09.

Innovation Live brings together a dozen new products in five categories: chilled & frozen, drinks, general ambient grocery, wellbeing & beauty and food & drink. North America is well represented, as is Asia, but there are also products from Latin America, as well as Continental Europe and the UK.

Jago and his team will be on hand to share information on the origin, ingredients and nutritional content of each product as well as distribution details. The team will also be able to offer one-on-one advice on how these innovations can work as inspiration for other products and markets.

"In many cases that means the promotion of better-for-you ingredients in everyday food and drink, such as cranberry juice with green tea extract and B vitamins for energy, or frozen vegetables that claim to enable healthy vision," says Jago.

"Some of the products we've found are really novel and may be too niche for the mainstream market but all have a story to tell and potential applications in other markets - an anti-ageing snack bar, for example, or candy that fragrances the skin."

And that's not all this year's IFE09 has to offer visitors, with the event's sister show, Pro2Pac, held in an adjacent hall, showcasing equipment, machinery, systems and services, as well as holding seminars on global packaging trends.

Back in the main exhibition space, The Skillery will feature live cookery demonstrations to educate visitors about new flavour trends and cooking styles, in association with the Craft Guild of Chefs.

So, whether it is smart packaging, beauty foods, superfruits, or novel ingredients, food and drink businesses will have no trouble finding inspiration for that next big idea at IFE09.

My inspiration: the IFE Advisory Board provides guidance for IFE organisers

Henry Amar, chairman, RH Amar
"The inspiration at the IFE is to see our whole industry on parade -hundreds of stands presenting the finest food available in Britain today. My company has been present at every IFE since the show started in 1979, so I am well placed to appreciate what immense progress there has been in 30 years in terms of the variety and quality of food available to the British consumer."

Andy Hardy, divisional director, Compass Group
"I always get enthused by Borough Market in London - the sight of fresh produce being sold and handled by people who really care about it. The colours, the smells, and bustle are thrilling. The chef I find most inspiring is Nick Nairn and the most inspiring restaurant would be Locanda Locatelli - excellent food that's both simple and stunning and some of the best service I have come across."

Richard Lowe, marketing director, British Meat
"I am inspired by the sort of theatrical merchandising one can find in great speciality retailers and hospitality operators around the world. There are great examples in most retail categories and the US remains the most likely source for this type of visual inspiration. However, having said that, the presentation of food in Harrods in London still takes some beating; it is consistently outstanding."