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Following on the back of foot and mouth disease, Speciality Food was launched in July 2002, as consumer interest in British farming and focus on provenance increased. The first year of publishing kicked off with a positive spin after the farming crisis with Datamonitor predicting that speciality food sales in Europe would grow from £21.4 billion to £26.6 billion in 2006. This was coupled with a gain for purveyors of high-quality fresh food, as the FSA recommended that previously frozen fish should not be labelled as ‘fresh’. At the end of the year, Feta cheese gained protected status, preserving the reputation of the UK’s favourite Greek cheese.
In 2003, Russia allowed dairy exports from the UK again after the foot and mouth epidemic prompted a temporary ban, and British food and drink exports were up 2%. By April, Speciality Food had launched a website and exhibited at IFE for the first time. During the summer, we revealed that the UK led the European sugar confectionery market, accounting for 23%, as indulgent fine food began its rise. In terms of policy, the government announced that £3 million was to be given to Food from Britain (now abolished) to promote the UK’s regional food and drink industry, cementing the strong provenance of British farming.
New olive oil regulations were announced in 2004 to champion provenance and processing as the fine food market grew. Gourmet food was on the rise, with 30% growth over the following five years predicted, while the vegetarian food market was worth £630m by 2004.
Retailers were encouraged to invest in chilled product offerings in 2005, as the convenience and drinks market showed significant growth. Consumers were after chilled items for immediate consumption, not a far cry from the convenience boom we are experiencing now. Meanwhile, poultry farmers fought back against a Channel 4 Dispatches feature that showed shocking rearing and production methods of poultry farming and defended high-welfare British farming.
In 2006 digital was really starting to grow, as online retailers accounted for half of the cash growth average. Sales were increasing 15 times faster than the retail average, surging ahead at 28.9%. Later in the year, the Soil Association called for a ban on the artificial sweetener aspartame, which is still used in over 6,000 food and drink products around the world today.
Speciality Food launched its very first newsletter in 2007, keeping retailers informed about the industry directly via their inboxes. This was also the year that inflation caused a consumer spending slump, similar to our current financial crisis. David Cameron, then leader of the opposition, called for clear labelling of British food in a campaign for ‘food patriotism’ at the start of the year. Unfortunately, August saw another outbreak of foot and mouth disease and exports of British meat and livestock were temporarily banned.
The year of 2008 saw British food in high demand abroad, as exports were up 10% from the previous year despite the foot and mouth outbreak that threatened to damage the UK food and drink sector. As the cost-of-living increased, Brits were curbing their spending, but they still wanted provenance and premium quality.
Natural was the number one labelling claim in 2009, with one quarter of all new food and drinks launches using natural as a buzzword. This demonstrated the interest in additive and preservative-free products from consumers, as they searched for healthier food. But as the credit crunch continued, nostalgia was also trending, and sales of familiar comforts such as steak and ale pies were up 40% compared with the previous year.
In 2010, the Scottish government injected a £20 million boost to the Scottish food and drink sector, strengthening Scotland’s reputation as a world-renowned food producer. Consumers were keeping their purchases close to home this year too, as 30% of consumers made a conscious move toward locally produced food, double the figure seen in 2006. But organic food was a low priority as only 9% of consumers sought out organic products, a far cry from the booming organic sector we see today.
After extensive research, the FSA announced that cloned meat and dairy was safe for human consumption in 2011 after three cases were reported of meat linked to a cloned cow sold in the UK. Meanwhile, online food shopping was continuing to rise and experts predicted it would double by 2015. Sustainability and food security were brought into focus this year as Princess Anne spoke out about the worrying future of international food production, stating that “Everyone has their part to play”. The year ended with the UK’s first farm shop conference to discuss how to combat the economic climate and preserve fine food retail.