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Halal Baby Food and Brexit Energy Drinks Served up at UK Food Show

A wider selection of international cuisine than ever before was on offer at this year's IFE event, with spicy baby foods, self-chilling drink cans, oddly branded energy drinks and innovative food-waste solutions all on the 2017 menu.

Photo: World cuisine at the IFE: All the ingredients for a truly memorable event.
World cuisine at the IFE: All the ingredients for a truly memorable event.
Photo: World cuisine at the IFE: All the ingredients for a truly memorable event.
World cuisine at the IFE: All the ingredients for a truly memorable event.

Of the more than 1,300 exhibitors at IFE 2017, a truly international food and drink event, about 99% were only too keen to present the nearly 30,000 visitors with a sample of their own delicious comestibles, as well as a choice of beverages designed to tickle palates. A tiny number – maybe fewer than a dozen – formed part of WasteWorks, an IFE sub-show with a focus on how best to dispose of unwanted or leftover food.

One new company with a product that looks set to find a growing market around the world is OWLOrganic Waste Logistics. The London-based business had on offer the Bio Whale, a system it was keen to promote to any establishment that has to handle in excess of a tonne and a half of food waste every week, with medium to large hotels, sizeable restaurants and hospitals at the top of its target list.

Explaining the benefits of the Bio Whale, Willie Heller, OWL's Chief Executive, said: "Typically, our units come built into a standard shipping container, 10ft, 20ft or 40ft long. Waste food can then be sucked in under vacuum, in a similar fashion to the way an airplane toilet works, before it is ground. As food waste is about 75% water, it can be turned into a liquid, which is then stored under pressure. There's no odours, no bugs and no vermin can get in.

"When the unit is full, it automatically sends us an SMS. We then send a vacuum truck to extract all the material and it is then delivered to an anaerobic digestion plant. That plant then converts the food waste into two things – methane and organic fertiliser."

According to Heller, a tonne of food waste produces about 800kg of organic fertiliser, while the methane can be injected into the gas grid or, more frequently, used on-site to generate the electricity needed to power the anaerobic digestion plant.

Spelling out the financial benefits of the system, he said: "We don't charge for the unit – we install it for free, we replace the client's existing waste pick-up service, which is typically collecting five times a week. The cost savings from the reduced number of pick-ups covers the cost of the installation, the equipment, any repairs, maintenance and pretty much everything else. It's all charged as one monthly fee."

At present, OWL manufactures all of its equipment just outside of Birmingham. Six of its units are already in operation at sites across the UK, while another four are under construction. It is, however, the opportunities opening up globally that particularly excite Heller.

Looking well beyond the domestic market, he said: "California just passed a law that requires the mandatory recycling of all food waste on the part of commercial enterprises. The size of the market in that state alone would require 10,000 of our units to be in use. The worldwide market is absolutely enormous and, 10 years from now, nobody's going to be picking up food waste in a truck and then taking it off to landfill. It's just not going to be that way."

He sees Asia, with its growing number of big cities, all closely packed with apartment blocks, as a region that could clearly benefit from the OWL approach to food-waste disposal. At present, he says, there are no freestanding anaerobic digestion plants in operation anywhere in Asia, underlining the vast potential for his product.

It was a very different product, however, that won this year's Best New Concept award at the show – liquidised onion in a bottle, courtesy of Devon-based Onion Jo. Outlining the product's award-winning credentials, Philip Baker, the company's Founder, said: "While some 90% of all recipes begin with peeling, slicing and chopping onions, no one has ever thought of coming up with a product like this before – pour-and-go pure onion.

"Each bottle contains the equivalent of five standard brown onions, with three tablespoonfuls equalling one onion. During the production process, we heat the onions to quite a high temperature in order to get the browning started, something that gives cooked onions more flavour. Then, in the kitchen, you just put it in a hot pan for one minute and the process is complete. We are still testing to find out what the shelf life of the product is – every month it seems to go up."

Onion Jo is due to hit British supermarkets later this year. In terms of overseas sales, the company has already begun discussions with a Canadian importer and sees the potential market as pretty much anywhere in the world where onions feature as part of the local cuisine.

Perhaps still more innovative, however, was the Chill-Can, billed as "the world's first and only commercialised self-chilling beverage can". According to Mitchell Joseph, the Chief Executive of the Joseph Company International, the California-based company behind the Chill-Can, it has taken 25 years and tens of millions of dollars to get the product ready for its global launch.

Giving something of an insight into the technology involved, Joseph said: "There's a little system inside that we call the heat exchange unit. It features patented plumbing and contains liquid carbon dioxide that has been reclaimed from the atmosphere. When that unit is activated, via a twist key, it cools the beverage down in just 54 seconds. It then stays cold in warm weather at least 30 minutes longer than a conventional can would once removed from the refrigerator.

Photo: Doing what it says on the tin: The Chill-can.
Doing what it says on the tin: The Chill-can.
Photo: Doing what it says on the tin: The Chill-can.
Doing what it says on the tin: The Chill-can.
Photo: Spice starter foods from For Aisha.
Spice starter foods from For Aisha.
Photo: Spice starter foods from For Aisha.
Spice starter foods from For Aisha.

"A number of companies in the soft-drink and malt-beverage sectors have already completed consumer tests of the product and it looks like being the most successful technology development ever trialled. In fact, it has even been referred to as the holy grail of the beverage world. Within the next few months we will be announcing who has licensed our technology, but it will soon be available across the US, as well as in Europe and Australia."

A rather different world-first container innovation was on show from UK-based Medea Vodka – a spirits bottle with a programmable LED display fitted to the front. Messages can be sent to the display via a smartphone app, with whatever is typed instantly appearing on the bottle's LED screen. The bottle actually contains premium Dutch vodka, and retails for about US$55 a time. It is currently on sale in a number of off-licences and bars across the UK.

Lovers of more traditional spirits also found plenty to enjoy at this year's show, largely thanks to the fact that the UK is currently experiencing a boom in new spirits producers, a development that saw distillery numbers rise from 116 in 2010 to 273 by the end of last year. Among these start-ups was Warner Edwards, a five-year-old Northamptonshire company putting an unusual twist on a traditional English spirit – rhubarb gin.

Although only launched 18 months ago, the pink drink is now far and away the distillery's best-selling line, according to Ross Strachan, the company's Off-trade Sales Manager. Explaining the origins of this seemingly unlikely product, he said: "We were able to get hold of a rhubarb crop from a guy who grows it in Lincolnshire on crown estate land. It is actually descended from a crop that was grown in the kitchen gardens at Buckingham Palace during the time of Queen Victoria, which is why it's called Victoria's Rhubarb Gin."

The distillery also makes a London dry gin, an elderflower-infused gin, and a sloe gin, the latter having won double gold at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Its most recent launch was its Melissa Gin, a spirit flavoured with lemon balm.

One new brand at IFE 2017 has actually been on everybody's lips for several years – Brexit. This time, though, instead of being a potentially unwise economic move, the Brexit in question was a line of energy drinks. The man behind this bit of brand appropriation is Pawel Tumilewicz, a Polish former businessman and now the Founder of Brexit Energy Drinks, a Manchester-based beverage company.

Looking back on the genesis of the business, he said: "I came up with the idea on the day of the EU referendum. I suddenly thought what a fantastic brand name Brexit would make. It was, after all, a word everybody was using. So I registered the trademark, sourced the drink, which is now available in standard and sugar-free versions, from Poland and set about finding out how to sell it across Europe.

"It is already on sale in the North West of England and we're moving into London, through small retailers and supermarkets, as well as in pubs and bars. Overall, we've had a huge amount of interest. We had a guy from Sri Lanka who wants to import it, as well as somebody from France and a group from Hong Kong. As people are still going to be talking about Brexit for several years to come, that should be more than enough time to establish the brand."

Another brand said to have potentially global appeal was The Nata, a frozen version of Portugal's famous pastel de nata custard tart. Manufactured by Panificadora de Santo André, a Portuguese restaurant chain, the frozen natas have been on sale in retail outlets and through restaurants and cafes since 2015. The company's frozen natas – apparently a world first – come in nine varieties, including chocolate, raspberry, blueberry, apple, pumpkin and even cod (an innovative take on a popular Portuguese oven-baked dish).

Assessing the product's potential, Joana Fernandes, The Nata's Sales Manager, said: "We make the natas to our own unique recipe in our bakery just south of Lisbon and then quickly freeze them. Purchasers – largely bakeries and cafes – then just need to let them thaw for 10 minutes, put them in an oven for a maximum of 14 minutes and they're done.

"At present, some 95% of our production, around 5,000 natas a day, goes to export, primarily to Germany, Poland, France, Switzerland and Belgium. Given the popularity of pastéis de nata in the Far East, a consequence of Portugal's long ties with Macau, we are confident of finding a market there too."

A rather different food concept was on offer from another recent start-up – For Aisha, a Lincolnshire-based business that claims to be Europe's leading halal baby-food brand. Set up just 18 months ago by Mark Salter, a former food and drink salesman, the company's ambient food range is now sold in Tesco, Asda, Boots and Morrisons in the UK, while it also supplies London's Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital.

Explaining the USP of the range, Salter said: "Today, the majority of supermarket buyers acknowledge the importance of halal food ranges. Beyond that, though, our products are also dairy- and nut-free.

"Overall, the idea behind the range was to create slightly spicy foods suitable for younger children. Really, it's all part of the process of weaning them on to more exotic foods, such as lentils, chickpeas, and quinoa, as well as herbs and spices, although we'd draw the line at chillis. It is not just all South Asian food in our range either. We also offer our own takes on Jamaican jerk chicken, Moroccan tagine and shepherd's pie. We estimate that only around a quarter of our customers are from the South Asian community.

"In line with most of Europe's baby food, our range is made in France. The recipes, however, are ours and the meat is British. We use British ingredients whenever we can and put a high emphasis on traceability."

Photo: Brexit: Free from foreign particles, but with a bitter after-taste for some.
Brexit: Free from foreign particles, but with a bitter after-taste for some.
Photo: Brexit: Free from foreign particles, but with a bitter after-taste for some.
Brexit: Free from foreign particles, but with a bitter after-taste for some.

The company sold a million pouches of its Stage Two baby food range (suitable for babies from seven-months-old to one year) and is now launching a tray-based Stage Three range (one-year-olds and above). It currently sells small quantities into Malaysia, Singapore, the UAE and Indonesia and is now said to be looking to move into France and China.

The IFE 2017 event took place at Excel London from 19-22 March.

Martyn Cornell, Special Correspondent, London

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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