If the industry required any more proof as to the growing popularity of speciality foods, visitor numbers at this month's Speciality & Fine Food Fair should provide reassurance.
According to organiser Fresh RM, more than 6,000 people attended the event, which was held at London's Olympia Exhibition Centre on 3-5 September, an increase in numbers of 12% on the previous year.
Of the 500 producers exhibiting, more than 135 were new to the show, further demonstrating the growing number of producers that are taking the speciality route.
Says Paul MacDonald, exhibition director: "Consumer interest in the quality of food and drink and awareness of issues such as traceability and regionality are at an all-time high. As a result, the fair has gone from strength to strength."
Highlights of the fair include products from recently established ready meals company Two Fishwives, which is hoping to do for the fish ready meals market what companies such as Square Pie and Pieminister have done for the meat pie industry.
The company produces premium products such as smoked haddock, snipped chive & red chilli fish cakes and a fish pie, which are currently sold in independents.
Co-founder Jo Greengrass says: "There are lots of value-added meat pies on the market but not so many on the fish side.
"We wanted to address that. So many people say that fish pies are all potato so we ensure our pies have a high fish content. "
The show also traditionally showcases some of the more interesting developments that may one day become mainstream products in retailers.
Olive oil company O de Oliva, for example, showcased its forthcoming range at this year's show, which included roasted almond and vanilla-flavoured oils alongside more traditional infused blends. Export manager Sergio Pereletegui says that the sweet olive oils can be used for salads but also recommends them for drizzling over puddings and ice cream.
Other, more avant garde, products featured at the show include vodka and orange onions and gin and tonic turnip chutneys from Henshelwoods Fine Foods and La Mare Jersey Black Butter, which is a rather odd combination of apple, spices, treacle and liquorice.
Yet the product honoured as the Great Taste Awards Supreme Champion, judged during the event, was more traditional. The top prize went to Woodcock Smokery for its Irish wild smoked salmon, proving that when it comes to speciality foods, the old favourites are often still the winners. n