It provided a launch pad for many food companies to debut new products to their customer and client base, hoping for that all-important positive customer feedback.
Recognition for their product could translate into a placement at the Natural & Organic Awards, voted for by visitors.
An award was not only in recognition for their product but also for the struggles and personal sacrifices made in establishing a start-up. The drive and determination to gain recognition has become a prime asset as the product gains market momentum.
This year, the winner for best new food product went to Bounce Foods’ Coconut Lemon Protein Crush, a high protein, vegetarian and gluten-free energy snack that began in the garage of husband and wife team Andy and Paula Hannigan.
Like the majority of new product makers at the show, the idea was borne out of personal philosophies and a healthy approach to food.
“The Bounce philosophy focuses on the belief that good physical health and nutrition are the cornerstones of a full and vibrant life,” they said.
“It’s about taking care of our environment, considering the needs of others and doing our bit to contribute. It’s also about choosing natural, nutritious foods as a basis of our diet and avoiding nasty artificial colours, flavours and preservatives.”
New product innovation at this year’s awards very much tapped into the natural and clean label demands of the consumer.
Ingredients perceived as being naturally healthy like oatmeal, spring water, 100% juice and nut snacks are among the ultimate clean label foods, which in the eyes of consumers, have not been toyed with and can therefore be trusted even if they do not sport an organic label.
According to Euromonitor’s Ewa Hudson, naturally healthy foods were valued globally at €251bn in 2015, beating fortified/functional products by almost €16bn in retail value growth.
Gluten-free foods such as bread were valued at €924m last year, with gluten-free cakes recording a 14% value gain.
Also shortlisted for Best New Food Product for 2016 was Mrs O's Fuss Free Mixes, a start-up company that began selling a range of homemade cake and cookie mixes back in January 2012.
These mixes use natural ingredients that are free from artificial flavourings, preservatives or sweeteners. Mrs O’s choice of ingredients result in a gluten-free, egg free, dairy-free and nut-free product range.
It hasn’t been an easy journey for its creator. As with most start-ups in the hyper-competitive food industry it has been a journey of trial and error.
“The first challenge was developing a solution to meet my daughters multiple food allergies in a single baking mix- this took 2 years,“ said Mrs O, aka Tutu Ojuroye.
“Several years ago, my daughter developed food allergies to eggs, dairy milk and nuts,” she explained.
“I soon discovered that it was impossible to purchase ready-made cake mixes which did not contain these food groups. The number of children that suffer from food allergies is on the increase. Adults are also affected and this can have quite an impact on their diet and lifestyle.”
Mrs O’s story of how she formed her company is a familiar one. Start-ups can take shape simply from a desire to make life easier for a loved one, making it a personal journey. In some cases a personal tragedy or loss gives the entrepreneur that extra motivation to succeed.
The creator of another shortlisted product, Aduna’s Cacao Energy Bar, has certainly channelled the personal difficulties he faced to create a series of award-winning products.
“I spent my early career working in the ad industry, creating and launching brands for big companies that I didn’t truly believe in,” said Aduna’s co-founder and managing director, Andrew Hunt. “I fell into clinical depression.”
It was only after a phone call from a friend offering him the opportunity to volunteer in the Gambia that he began working with small-scale growers of fruits and vegetables. This would give him the impetus to think big and begin overhauling the typical social business model.
“As a brand we aim to express the vibrancy, vitality and positivity of Africa,” he explained. “To bring this strategy to life we have fused African Wax Print fabric with a contemporary Pop Art twist and used premium notes such as gold foiling and tamper proof seals, resulting in a packaging concept that immediately communicates the product is from Africa and it is of premium quality.”
His strategy for NPD is also an example of the agility and free-thinking ethos that start-up companies are renowned for.
“It's also important to note that Aduna has a multiple ingredient strategy,” he said. “Our overall strategy is to take Aduna from early adopters (superfood powders) to early majority (bars and teas) to majority (more mainstream formats in our NPD pipeline).
By introducing new and exciting formats every 9-12 months, Hunt believes this will keep the ingredient in the spotlight of the media, the retailer and the consumers.
“Over a sustained period of years our ingredients will gain public acceptance and be used by mainstream food manufacturers. The long-term nature of both our commitment and our strategy is the key here.”