This year's International Food & Drink Event boasts two new sections, topical seminars and an exciting new innovation feature

So businesses scale back on innovation in a recession, do they? Try telling the 1,200 exhibitors who will be showcasing their wares at this year's IFE09 - the only global food and drink event dedicated to innovation.

The show, which takes place at London's ExCeL centre from 15 to 18 March, will be bursting at the seams with new food and drink products and ideas to help businesses through the economic downturn.

Visitors will be able see a diverse range of exciting new products from around the world under one roof. The event also boasts a world-class line-up of visitor attractions including Innovation Live, The Skillery and Future Trends. This year, to make it easier to navigate the vast exhibition space, the show has been divided into 15 product groupings, including two firsts for 2009: Ingredients (see right) and Seafood.

The sections devoted to Health and Wellbeing, and Fit for Kids, play host to companies from as far afield as the United Arab Emirates and Australia, and to products as diverse as braised tofu, dairy-free cheese and coconut water.

The Meat and Poultry section includes exhibitors from Romania and Argentina as well as the usual suspects closer to home, while the Dairy section showcases products from sheep, goats and even yaks.

The Organics arena features suppliers from China, South America and Africa, and the Drinks section spans everything from spirits to green tea. In Ethnic, Pakistan and India are well represented for both retail and foodservice, while the rejuvenation of frozen food is borne out by a strong showing for indulgent desserts.

Regional foods
As this year's show demonstrates, demand for regional food and drink is thriving despite the recession.

Tyneside ice-cream and desserts supplier, Beckleberry's, is a case in point. The company is looking to expand its retail business after focusing almost exclusively on foodservice until now. "If the orders we had were multiplied to a national level, we could cope," says Beckleberry's director Peter Craig, who will be on hand at his stand to administer tastings of his Georgie lemon pie and the award-winning blackcurrant and kirsch sorbet.

Other exhibitors in the Regional Foods section include fine foods distributor Heart of England, which will be pushing its newly launched delivery service that allows buyers to order regional produce from 78 suppliers in the West Midlands but receive just one single invoice.

One producer keen to take her local products to a national level is Val Challis, a former Women's Institute jam maker who started supplying farm shops and small independent retailers four years ago under the Auntie Val's brand name. Her chutneys, marmalades and jams are sold in Sussex, Hampshire and Surrey and she is bringing three new marmalades to IFE.

Caribbean patties will sit side by side with bread from the Arctic Circle in the bakery section at this year's IFE.

Bakery companies have wasted no time responding to rising consumer demand for comforting and hearty foods.

Polarbröd is a traditional Swedish bread that is frozen at minus 40F immediately after baking, allowing it to remain fresh. With a seven-day shelf life, it is also helps reduce waste - another growing concern for consumers, says Mike Bowen, a spokesman for Pain Delice, the agent for Polarbröd in the UK and Ireland.

Although the bread is currently only available through foodservice in the UK, its high-fibre, low-salt and zero-dairy recipe has found many fans across the Continent and Bowen is hoping for success among UK retailers too.

"I think British shoppers would enjoy its unique proposition, and people's increasingly adventurous appetite for foreign, alternative staples could well make it as popular as baguettes or tortillas."

Another exciting company is Caribbean specialist Cleone Foods, which makes a range of slices and savoury patties under the Island Delight brand for major retailers and wholesalers.

Cleone's range of spicy patties - the Caribbean equivalent of pasties - are already proving a hit with consumers, says Mark Scudamore, a company spokesman.

"With influences from Africa, Spain and France, the simple yet delicious nature of Caribbean food is certainly growing in popularity among British consumers," says Scudamore.

New for 2009: Ingredients - the ingredients to diversify  during an economic downturn
Ingredients is one of two new categories featuring at this year's IFE. Exhibitors will be showcasing a range of exciting sauces, herbs and spices, dried fruits, flavourings and seasonings.

The new category will unify exhibitors already visiting the show, says IFE sales manager Cora Strachan. "Ingredients is a good growth area for many companies. In this climate, lots of suppliers are looking to diversify," she says.

The dedicated section will be small in this first year, with 10 exhibitors signed up as The Grocer went to press.

One such supplier is the Amazing Food Company, which will be at the event to promote its range of premium ketchups imported from the US.

While looking to expand its retail listings, it is also seeking to target the foodservice market with a range of garlic juices.

"It's a tough market, selling a high-end product and facing a lower dollar," says co-founder Stuart Toberman. "But to sit and do nothing is just waiting for trouble to come to you."

New for 2009: Seafood - from local to Vietnamese

From Russian caviar to Vietnamese shrimps, seafood producers at IFE will be putting out strong messages about provenance this year.

Devon-based Meridian Sea is trialling locally produced seafood terrines and pâtés in a bid to bring a local touch to a largely imported product.

"It's a niche market but we see a gap for it," said owner Nigel Vogwill, adding that the opportunity for British seafood producers has expanded because of sterling's fall in value.

Further afield, Vietnamese producers are aiming to increase awareness of the country's seafood. Among new products will be cooked and raw black tiger shrimp from Seaprimexco Vietnam.

Product highlights

Speltotto Mixes - Sharpham Park (stand N1658)
These bagged risotto-style mixes are made with premium organic pearled spelt, an untreated form of wheat that is easier to digest . The mixes come in tomato & chilli; coriander & garlic with thyme; and pumpkin & shallot flavours. With an rsp of £3.95 for a 225g bag, they're not cheap but have convenience on their side as they need only hot water to prepare. They hit Selfridges this month. 

Frank's Red Hot Xtra Hot - Reckitt Benckiser (US) (stand N1319)

The Original variant of the cayenne pepper sauce is considered a US culinary classic, especially when added to chicken to make buffalo wings, and made its UK debut in Tesco last year. This year, importer Bespoke Foods will be unveiling the rest of the range, which includes Xtra Hot and Chilean Lime variants. They can be used as marinades or meal accompaniments.

Collagen Water - Pokka (Japan) (stand S4626)

Beauty foods have long been heralded as the next big thing and the latest water to get in on the act is Collagen Water. It contains 2,000mg of marine-derived collagen peptides, which, as beauty experts know, makes skin look younger and healthier and boosts cell regeneration. The drink, in 500ml PET bottles, has a hint of peach and extra vitamin C but contains no preservatives or colourings.

Kellogg's Live Bright Brain Health Bar (Innovation Live stand)

Brain-boosting products are a boom area in NPD. Children have traditionally been the main target, but Kellogg's has broadened its scope to appeal to adults with the Live Bright bar, in Double Chocolate or Chocolate & Vanilla flavours. The bars contain DHA omega-3, which Kellogg's says is "an important nutrient that sustains brain health" and as critical to the brain as calcium is to bones. 

Frutels Acne Care Chocolate (Innovation Live stand)

Acne care in chocolate form seems an unlikely proposition, but a new product from US company Frutolis claims to be exactly that. The premium, all-natural, dark chocolate is said to contain powerful antioxidants and micro-nutrients that support the body's defences against the causes of acne. The sugar-free chocolate also contains vitamins and minerals, including B, C and E, folic acid, biotin, and zinc.

POMx Iced Coffee (Innovation Live stand)

US company POM Wonderful helped pioneer the market for better-for-you pomegranate-based drinks, and has extended its offer into the iced coffee category. Its new range comes in four varieties - Café au Lait, Chocolate, Caramel and Chai Tea. Ingredients are organic or sourced via the Rainforest Alliance, and boast the health benefits of the company's signature pomegranate juices.