Join the artisan revolution!

Source is the South West’s biggest and best trade show for the food & drink sector – and it keeps growing year on year.  In 2017 there were more exhibitors and visitors than ever before and in 2018 you can expect to see well over 200 producers.   Part of the reason for this success is that it is perfectly designed, and placed, to benefit from an enormously powerful trend.  A trend that has been gathering momentum for at least forty years and shows no sign of running out of steam.  A trend that’s not only transforming society and the economy in general but the food and drinks market in particular.

Back to the future
In 1982 futurologist John Naisbitt published “Megatrends: ten new directions transforming our lives“. One of these was what he termed ‘high tech/high touch’: “a formula I use to describe the way we have responded to technology.  What happens is that whenever new technology is introduced into society, there must be a counterbalancing human response – that is, high touch – or the technology is rejected.  The more high tech, the more high touch”.

OK, so this probably sounds a bit lofty and theoretical but it simply means that as technology plays an increasingly large part of our lives we compensate by getting more in touch with our human side and turning back to nature.   In the 1950s mass production and mass marketing really took off.  Then what happened?  People responded by becoming more concerned with things like the environment, sustainability, ethical consumption, personal development and general well-being.

Examples of this trend are everywhere.  Technology lets us download any song we like, anytime we want, wherever we happen to be – but music festivals are more popular than ever before because of the social experience they provide.  Facebook has been so eagerly adopted because it uses high tech to let people feel more in touch with their friends and the world about them.  Why have Starbucks, Costa and Café Nero have taken over our high streets when we can make great coffee wherever we want, work from home, and communicate by smartphone, email and Skype?  Because real human contact feels good.

The idea is even at the very heart of Star Wars (and you can’t get more real than that!).  When Luke Skywalker attacks the Death Star he’s advised to “Use the force, Luke”.  Only when he switches off his targeting computer, and gets in touch with his inner powers, does he successfully evade Darth Vader and hit the target.  We may be embracing new technology, but we’re also keen to stay in touch with our humanity, leaning heavily towards things that are more natural and spiritual.

A smorgasbord of examples
What has all this got to do with food and drink?  Well it’s a big part of the reason consumers are moving away from the mass produced, mass market, brands in favour of much smaller niche, artisan and craft brands.

That’s why Innocent, with its touchy-feely values and friendly human tone of voice became so popular so fast (before being swallowed by Coca Cola, eager to hitch itself to this trend).  It helps explain the explosion of craft and microbreweries across the UK, Europe and North America.  The same effect can be observed in the spirits market (as you’ll see from Expowest Cornwall’s post about craft gin distilleries).

Right across the food and drink sector, from jams to pickles, charcuterie to confectionery and dairy to bakery, we’re seeing a surge of small enterprises responding to the ever-increasing demand for locally sourced, hand-made, traditional, low tech, all-natural, preservative-free, produce.

You heard it from Goldman Sachs
Judy Hong, Senior Analyst at Goldman Sachs Research says “We’re in the midst of a craft revolution.  We’re seeing explosive growth in many consumer product categories”.  Her view is that artisanal craft products “resonate with many of the megatrends we see with consumers, particularly with millennials who are really looking for something very authentic, they like to take risks and try new products”.  She believes that the trend has only just begun, will continue to grow for the next decade: “The rise of craft is here to stay. In some categories, we think craft will really take over the mainstream segments, and like it or not, the larger companies really have to deal with the consequences of what that means”.  (To see a video of her full presentation click here).

Artisan stories are what people want to hear
Janet Helm, a food trend tracker, writing a few years ago really put her finger on another aspect of what was then just starting to happen.  “What’s old is new again.  Today’s hottest food trend is all about tradition, nostalgia and authentic, old-fashioned food preparation.  In one word, it’s artisan.  Artisan has become a cue for quality.  It’s also been a way to bring the process into the product.  People not only want to know where their food comes from, they want to know how it’s made”.

She goes on to quote from the Artisan Foods: Culinary Trend Mapping Report from the Center for Culinary Development and Packaged Facts: “In a time when many people feel increasingly distant from the means of production for what they eat, artisan foods carry inherent value by granting consumers an opportunity to know where their food comes from, to see the hands that made it and to understand how it is made.”

She also quotes Kimberly Egan, CEO of the Center for Culinary Development: “Consumers, manufacturers, and restaurant operators all recognize that artisan is synonymous with quality when it comes to ingredients and preparation. The appeal lies in the stories that connect products to consumers which in turn offer deeper meaning and connects to personal values.”

All of these factors express themselves in many different ways. Organic, farm to fork, sustainability, food miles, farmers markets, fair trade, locally sourced, food festivals, provenance, handmade, line caught, free range, farm assured, sustainable production, GM free – they are all different aspects of the way many people are feeling less positive about mass production, mass marketing and even global brands.

It all comes together at Source
In this article we’ve ranged pretty widely – but let’s now bring it closer to home. This trend is an absolute gift for the people and economy of the South West. The region has long been famous for the quality of its natural produce harvested from the sea and grown on its many farms. But now there’s a huge opportunity to process this food locally and create artisan brands that have provenance, heritage, authenticity and stories in abundance.

Chefs, hoteliers, caterers, retailers, wholesalers and consumers just can’t get enough of these high quality craft products. But all too often they simply don’t have the time to search out the absolute gems. Good businesses are busy! Source gives them a unique opportunity to discover brands that tick all the right boxes but which they would otherwise miss. Likewise producers – who need to take a stand because the show attracts buyers from far and wide that are never going to find them by any other route. It’s a win-win situation! As the artisan trend continues to grow, so does the show, and we can’t wait to see how it grows over the next few years.

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