lunch! Exhibition 2011, Old Billingsgate – a blog roundup.

I recently popped in to lunch! the contemporary food to go show held in London’s Old Billingsgate market. The exhibition was billed as the UK’s leading trade event for ‘out of home’ food and drink. Over 200 exhibitors showcased the latest ranges of packaging, equipments, services and technologies as well as the best bit…..actual food-to-go. We were intrigued to see what the fuss was about, so here’s a round-up of the show, including our marks out of ten!

On a side note, if you’ve never been to Old Billingsgate and the surrounding areas, you absolutely must. Situated on the banks of the Thames in the heart of the city, a mere stone’s throw from London Bridge, the vista really is to die for. Walk along the banks of the Thames enjoying the sunshine and the sound of seagulls. Then sigh with enormous relief that you’re not one of a multitude of expensive-suited city types, staring vacantly into the distance and gnawing on a prêt-a-manger ‘no bread’ sandwich. Thus forms the backdrop of the lunch! Exhibition 2011.

The fact that ‘lunch!’ optimistically places an exclamation mark after its name still amuses me, and yet on entering the premises it’s pretty obvious this trade show expects a lot from its visitors and means business. It reminded me of a Monocle magazine launch I once went to: welcome to the world of aspirational Britain, a place where ‘that recession nonsense’ hasn’t quite hit yet. All very slick and professional, and I did wonder if much of the ‘lunch menu’ was pitched particularly at the affluent surrounding city? I confess I felt a tad underdressed with my packed sarnie that cost me under a fiver.

Still, we weren’t exhibiting ourselves, but looking for inspiration to enhance our range of deli and food packaging. A number of companies were there competing for the deli consumables market, and offering disposable ‘everything’ from coffee cups to sandwich trays. With products such as glass chilling cabinets and internet development services sitting right alongside companies exhibiting luxury Moroccan mint tea, it was a little hard at times to focus on one thing without being distracted by another. In practice it could do with a little more attention to product categorisation.

I bumped into a number of our customers, one of which was the lovely Harley Street based ‘The Food Doctor’. It was great to see them using our Pommes Legeres Crates (AFPLC) for display, and they were very complimentary about our speed of service, asking how we turn things around so fast. I told them the honest truth – we might look relatively small but we’re pretty damn fast.

Lots of beautifully produced artisan products on show, and innovative packaging concepts that looked way too expensive to be considered disposable. It did highlight the fact that food and drink is probably the only industry still stubbornly bucking the financial downturn. It certainly supports the recent white paper from Insights that showed food and drinks sales on the up despite the recession. Which is great news for so many of our customers!

I left with lots of thoughts, some interesting ideas, but only one question – why do I always come away from trade shows with such a pitiful selection of freebies? Others seem to walk away with bags bulging with the fruit of their hard labour!

• Best bit: location, location, location

• Worst bit: slightly disjointed and tricky to navigate

• Stand out product: easily the WOW-BOX a food platter like no other!

• Marks out of ten: 7/10 London does put on a good show.

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