With the food and drink industry emerging from the shadow of foot and mouth, British compnies now have a great chance to rebuild confidence in their quality products in the rest of the world. More than 80 will be exhibiting in a celebratory Food from Britain pavilion during Food & Drink Expo at the NEC in March, making this a good place for buyers to meet speciality regional suppliers offering both traditional English products and innovative quality ranges. Niche producers are expecially positive about their future and looking forward to a year of growing orders and increasing market share. Food from Britain is going one step further this year and using some of its foot and mouth recovery grant to fund a bigger pavilion with stronger branding and marketing. "UK producers need to look for other markets if they were hurt by foot and mouth last year and lost share in their markets. Food & Drink Expo is a prime way of singing out and shouting about the diversity they offer," says Food from Britain public relations manager Emma Foster. In all, 28 regions will be represented on the Food from Britain stand and the products they offer are equally diverse ­ fruit cakes, cask ales, conserves, Yorkshire Brack, smoked trout, handmade cheeses, game pies, dairy ice cream, authentic spices, blueberry juice and vegetarian curry sauces, to name but a few. Many are linked to three regional food and drink associations representing Yorkshire, the West Midlands and south west. Twelve exhibitors are taking a group stand under the aegis of the Yorkshire Pantry. Most are showing their full ranges and also took part in the 2000 Expo. "That was a tremendous success for the group and the individual exhibitors," says Yorkshire Pantry project officer John Partridge. "All came away with enquiries and orders that more than justified us being there." This year the organisation is launching its new food trail' and directory, which help visitors and retailers easily source local products direct from Yorkshire Pantry's 140-plus members. Twenty-two West Midlands companies are exhibiting for the first time under the umbrella of Heart of England fine foods. For most, this is also their first Expo. During practical cooking demonstrations by West Midlands freelance chef Holly Jones, visitors will be able to see the exhibitors' products used in easy-to-prepare as well as adventurous dishes. "Companies from the very small to large will be showing that the West Midlands food sector is diverse, innovative and competitive," says organiser Chrys Bonds. "We're coming to make contacts and show our range of products. All exhibitors will be doing sampling for visitors." South West Food & Drink, the region's business development association, is also using local professional chefs to promote the ingredients of its 18 exhibitors. Organiser Georgina Hoey says Expo is a favourite with the region's producers. "It is very important that they are seen nationally, and Expo has a very good image." Additionally, the association will be launching its new trade identity and logo for the south west which has been developed following extensive research among consumers, retailers and producers in the region. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will also have branded national pavilions, each with 16 to 18 exhibitors. According to Welsh programme development manager Arwyn Davies, the Expo is emerging as one of Europe's key events for food and drink companies. "It is one of the most important dates in the calendar as far as trade fairs go. It's a significant sized show but not too big, so individual exhibitors can be seen and the atmosphere is conducive to doing good business. We had an excellent show two years ago." Scottish Enterprise head of service and consumer industries Raymond Prendergast agrees. He adds that the UK is a premium market for Scottish food and drink companies, the majority of whom are truly international. "We have a whole range of activities to help Scottish producers become more competitive in UK markets and our pavilion is an important part of that strategy." l For further information on Food & Drink Expo, organised by William Reed, publisher of The Grocer, and which runs from 17-20 March at the NEC Birmingham, visit www.foodanddrink.co.uk {{FEATURES }}